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I have been completely taken up with a project (now completed) that argued that the black African middle-class was our single biggest asset and the workings of the interests of that class in the world would save our politics and help our economics. Yaay!

The basic argument looked at the defection suffered by the ANC in the May elections from its most sophisticated constituency and went on to argue that things were going to turn out rosy in the end. (There are hundreds of tables and graphs and other clever financial market type number crunching that was mostly done by my brilliant colleagues …. but I will only publish a version of that when I have had a chance to chat to them and get their permission).

Not everyone bought our story, but soon you will be able to make up your own mind if our grounds for optimism (that the ANC self-corrects) have an adequate basis.

The ‘black African middle-class saves South Africa’ project (which is what we started calling as a sort of shorthand … the report is LONG so trust me that really is shorthand) has held me back from completing my promised comments about the SACP. The further we went with the ‘middle-class’ project, the more disturbed I have become about the the role the SACP played in engineering the end of Mbeki’s presidency and it’s iron protection of Zuma through the chaos he has brought upon us over the last 4 years.

So as promised I will write that out here and publish it before year end … that’s the SACP story … so 2 promises so far.

Meanwhile here is an extract of my bespoke comments (now too dated to remain bespoke) on the Numsa split (written on the trot) a week ago. My brilliant editor friend in London suggested it be titled:

South African politics: Love’s labours lost

Numsa expulsion … if you love it let it go, if you hate it pray for its demise

The central Executive Committee of Cosatu expelled the largest member of the trade union federation at an extended weekend meeting of the special Central Executive Committee (CEC). Irwin Jim, Numsa general secretary gave a 3 hour long spirited defence of Numsa and attack on those trying expelling the union – but to no avail. It has always been a foregone conclusion, but what Numsa was doing was contesting the terrain, trying to stay as long as possible to take as many members and individual with them. The strategy has probably worked and they have come out, if not smelling of roses, then not badly damaged.

So what?

Numsa’s ideological position reaches back in an unbroken line to a strong and independent left faction (referred to as Workerists) which at the formation of Cosatu in 1985 were still strongly critical of the over-close relationship with the ANC. They  believed that the ‘national liberation agenda’ of the ANC would swamp the more limited agenda of the pursuit of workers’ rights – and the more expansive pursuit of socialism – and that therefore the unions need to be wary of this ally and always fight for their independence.

As it turns out Cosatu did pretty well out of its relationship with the ANC – getting much of the labour market structured in their favour – to the point that it has done some real damage to our economy. However, the tension between the ANC and Cosatu has continued to rise. Cosatu didn’t like the National Development Plan (too pro-markets), Cosatu didn’t like e-tolling (who in Gauteng and outside The Treasury does?), Cosatu didn’t like the Treasury setting the limits of public sector wage increases, Cosatu didn’t like the youth wage subsidy, believing it to be the short end of segmentation of the labour market into more and less protected (cheaper and more expensive) workers.

And of late the ANC, at the end of its tether about the losses of revenue from the platinum and Numsa strikes, at the violence that accompanied the platinum strikes, at the damage done our investment image by strikes, at the damage done the limping infrastructure programme plagued by strikes, has finally started talking about amendments to the Labour Relations Act that would make it a lot more difficult for Cosatu to strike (make secret balloting compulsory) and make it difficult for nationally damaging strikes (like Amcu’s strike in the platinum sector) to go on indefinitely (make some form of forced independent mediation obligatory after a certain time of being on strike.)

Numsa, and Irvin Jim – and Cosatu general secretary Zwlinzima Vavi – have gradually come into more and more serious conflict with the ANC and the SACP over these policies – and the relationship has finally broken. It must be said that Vavi and Jim have also been on the side of the angels on a number of different issues as well; Corruption Watch, abuse of ministerial car allowances, various human rights issues, including the Dalai Lama visit, the Right to Know Campaign, the Treatment Action Campaign, the protection of the Public Protector, the getting of Zuma to pay back the money, the Gupta wedding, horror at the proposed done Russian nuclear deal … the list is too long, but, in general (and with one or two notable exceptions), Cosatu under Vavi and Jim have defended the defensible – unlike their erstwhile comrades in the ANC and SACP

The expulsion of Numsa, which might quickly be followed by the exit of its closest allies the South African Commercial Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), Communication Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa), Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), and South African Football Players Union (Safpu) will leave Cosatu much weakened and with an over preponderance of public sector unions.

Numsa – the world is its oyster

For Numsa, the world is its oyster. It has announced intention to set up forums of some form of ‘socialist alliance’ – which we must assume will evolve into a political party, perhaps testing the waters of some constituencies in Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg (where it has pre-existing strong union organisation that could easily be redeployed as party structures in the 2016 municipal election.

Numsa can also now freely pursue its strategy for vertical integration into mining, processing, construction, energy, and manufacturing, including light manufacturing and food processing. Numsa sees these whole value chains of particular metals (and possible other minerals) as natural pillars through which they can exert more power over employers and employer organisations. Up until now Cosatu’s slogan of “One Industry, One Union, One Federation” has prevented Numsa realising its full ambitions (although several unions, especially Num have complained for years that Numsa has poached its members.)

Cosatu?

This leaves Cosatu with the heavyweight public sector unions as its dominant component (and, officially, remember it is still bigger, if not more vigorous, than the bits that have been expelled or might leave in sympathy with Numsa). However the public sector unions are about to embark on a do-or-die wage negotiation in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. Keep in mind that Numsa fought to stay in Cosatu primarily because it believed it could pull the heart of the federation with it, that in each of the unions, large and small, there were branches and sections and individuals who supported Numsa and supported Numsa’s decision to not back the ANC in the last election. Including significant parts of the public sector unions.

Strikes are a testing time – in fact, wage negotiation are a testing time – and even more so when you have on the other side of the table representatives of a state, so absolutely constrained by the fiscal ledge to which it is clinging that is unlikely to shift towards your bargaining position. The MTBF issued by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene last month was as close as we have come to the austerity of Trevor Manuel’s first few budgets in the mid 90’s. This was the heart of the Cosatu (and South African Communist Party) attack on Mbeki’s government, with ‘the left’ arguing it was a form of Kowtowing to the Washington Consensus. ‘The left’ then and now believe the way to economic growth is by state spending as a stimulus that creates the virtuous circle. Nene’s budget was the heart of the “1996 Class Project” that Zuma and his allies supposedly defeated at Polokwane in December 2007, which takes the decidedly opposite view of growth: that the state needs to make room for investment and that government needs to create an environment maximally attractive to the same. And part of doing that is keeping borrowing and therefore spending strictly within the bounds acceptable to global capital markets.

Cosatu is now dominated by unions that are not involved in the productive economy. It’s basically the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the burned out cinders of the likes of the National Union of Mineworkers and other bits and pieces. More than anything these unions are dependent on state spending … but from a state that seems to be all out of resources. We do not think that while Sadtu and Nehawu are ostensibly close to the Zuma faction of the ANC that this is going to take any of the sting out of the coming public sector wage round. Which trade union loves the boss enough to tell its members to back off because he is in political trouble? None that we have ever heard of. And anyway these unions all face a myriad splits, including towards Numsa … they have to show their members they can win them a decent deal.

SACP?

The SACP backed, to the hilt, with everything it had, Jacob Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane. It did so because its main task was to stop Mbeki and the political programme he represented. Mbeki was increasingly basing ANC policy on promoting the rising black middle-classes and he was doing so at the expense of the trade unions and the SACP for whom he seemed to express ever greater public contempt – and in my opinion would eventually have moved out of the ruling alliance … essentially by collapsing it. The is no question in our minds that Mbeki was making sure that both the SACP and Cosatu had less and less power over ANC policy making. Obviously Mbeki overplayed his hand, not believing his enemies would stoop to backing Jacob Zuma for president. Well he certainly called that one wrong and the rest is history.

The SACP still sits as Zuma’s main backer. Cosatu has essentially collapsed under the pressure of trying to keep its unity and back this president at the same time. The ANC Youth League was expelled along with Julius Malema because Zuma became so tarnishing that it was impossible to stand by him … and it now (the ex-ANCYL) exists as a vigorous and challenging opposition party, the EFF.

So the SACP is sitting there in the Kraal with Jacob Zuma, defending him to the hilt on his myriad transgressions, trying to explain to the world how it (the SACP) is the true representative of the working class as the millions follow Numsa out of the alliance – and it is impossible to avoid the fact that Numsa’s most virulent criticisms are for the SACP.

The ANC

The ANC is looking particularly forlorn. They fought this split, understanding that the loss of Numsa would lead to other losses and would make the 2016 municipal election a myriad-sided fight in which the ANC was likely to get a bloody nose. The ANC still has way to fall. It got just over 62% of the vote in the national election in May this year and just under 62% in the municipal election in 2011. The trajectory is downwards (the party does worse in municipal polls) and there is much fear (if you support the ANC) and much anticipation (if you don’t) of catastrophic results for the ANC in 2016.

As it happens part of our ‘upside surprise’ scenario, is one in which the ANC, freed from the constraints of its alliance with organised labour, recognises the errors of its ways, elects a clean, reforming and effective leadership in 2017 (the National Conference), shuffles the current crew off to the safe retirement and comfortably wins the 2019 elections with a decent development plan at the helm. But this precisely requires the ANC getting a serious shock in the 2016 election. It sounds like a fantasy and probably is. But it is unavoidably apparent that the conditions are looking increasingly hostile for the ANC.

It does appear that if the ANC doesn’t do something radical and soon, it could be in serious electoral trouble. Of course it might chase the EFF and Numsa’s socialist policy in the belief that this would win the party votes. We think there are other and better options the ANC is considering but they are not on the table yet and all we can hear is the repeat of “welcome to the second, more radical phase, of the transition” – which doesn’t actually mean anything, but sounds vaguely (distinctly?) threatening to investors.

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.

Some humble and not so humble opinions on various snippets of recent and not so recent political news.

Platinum strike finally over

Amcu and the platinum producers announced a settlement on Tuesday. The industry reports the strike cost producers R24-billion in lost revenue and the workers R10.6-billion in forsaken wages (see the pro-industry website here for other data.)

So what?

It is generally agreed in the financial press that the mineworkers lost more than they gained (see here and here – that second link to Carol Paton in the Business Day … well worth reading as always and way more subtle than a bald statement that workers lost more than they gained).

My own impression is the settlement will be hailed by the vast majority of the returning mineworkers as a victory for Amcu – and, explicitly, as a defeat for Num, the ANC and government.

I expect Amcu to continue strong growth in the gold sector, eventually threatening Num’s dominance there (Amcu is sitting at about 30% representivity at the major gold producers already). The gold sector has a centralised bargaining system (through the Chamber of Mines) and Amcu has been formally prevented by the Labour Court from holding a protected strike at AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony and Sibanye because the agreement struck last year is binding. However  an unprotected strike remains a possibility and I expect Amcu to apply constant pressure to the agreement – perhaps embarking on an unprotected strike before year end.

My ‘most likely’ scenario (published in January 2014, see here): cascading labour unrest during 2014 and 2015 stemming from Amcu’s rapid growth in the mining sector, Numsa breakaway from Cosatu and the public sector wage round in 2015 – remains my base case.

Numsa is threatening to bring over 200 000 out on strike in the metal industry (largely the auto industry) from July 1. (Summarised by my friend and colleague at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities economist Jeff Schultz: “The NUMSA and a number of other unions, meanwhile, are threatening to bring over 200,000 out on strike in the metal industry (largely the auto industry) from 1 July. Employers and unions  in the metal and engineering sector have been at loggerheads for three months now. The current three-year wage agreement comes up for renewal at the end of this month. The unions reportedly opened negotiations with a demand for a 15-20% pay rise, while employers are  currently offering 6.5-7.0%. This is another key risk to the production side of the economy in H2  and we will be watching developments here extremely closely in the days and weeks to come.”)

Zuma sick and tired

This week’s Sunday Times led with the ‘revelation’ that a heart condition, diabetes, high blood pressure and exhaustion have combined to raise concerns about the President’s health.

So what?

The story contains no news whatsoever. It is conceivable that Jacob Zuma could retire early for health reasons and it is conceivable that Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or some other ANC leader could become president or acting president. There is no strong evidence that such a transition would be accompanied by a damaging power struggle or be otherwise destabilising. Given how the ANC formulates and implements policy, there is also no strong evidence that a new leader would radically depart from the broad policy thrusts of the current government. The ANC is, in any case, under increasing pressure to deliver on a ‘more radical’ transformation policy and this pressure would apply to any new leader of the ANC and government.

State of the Nation: “like watching someone try to make their granny look bad ass”

This is a bit dated, but every political analyst and his (or her) dog seemed to make huffy and opinionated comments about SONA2014#2 so before I get my FOMO on:

If you expected some meat on the bones of Jacob Zuma’s statement we have to embark on radical socio-economic transformation you would have been disappointed. The speech consisted, as it always does, of a series of signals packed in mind-numbing detail.

I have pulled out the relevant quotes and underlined the relevant part of each quote below, but in short the speech raised some concerns for businesses and/or financial markets:

  • He  (Jacob Zuma) made the call for a national minimum wage
  • We can expect increased costs on mining companies as Charter targets are more vigorously pursued: in effect increasing the wage bill and other costs
  • There will be more onerous requirements for BBBEE and EE – in effect increasing costs on the wage bill and lowering rate of return in the short to medium term
  • The nuclear programme is definitely on – and there are increased fears of corruption associated with what will be the biggest public tender in South African history.

However, given the powerful pressures acting on the African National Congress, the populist concessions in the speech were relatively mild – and, if you believe an expanding public infrastructure spending programme could drive economic growth, then there was some good news in there for you too.

My first response on Twitter was along the lines of: ‘If you don’t have a plan for transformation, then force the private sector to come up with one #SONA2014.”

But there is not a lot of threatened force in the President’s outline. In truth,  Chester Missing, a comedian’s ventriloquist dummy was probably more accurate when he posted: “Talking the ANC’s radical transformation programme. It’s like watching someone try to make their granny look bad ass #SONA2014”. (Which hints at what we think is the greater risk: if the ANC fails to meet the various expectations of the emerging middle classes its political hegemony – and electoral majority –  might become marginal, leading to real policy instability.)

QUOTES (with explanatory links):

“Change will not come about without some far-reaching interventions.”

The social partners will also need to deliberate on wage inequality. On our side as Government we will during this term investigate the possibility of a national minimum wage as one of the key mechanisms to reduce the income inequality.”

“To further promote improved living conditions for mine workers, Government is monitoring the compliance of mining companies with Mining Charter targets, relating to improving the living conditions of workers.”

“This situation calls for a radical transformation of the energy sector, to develop a sustainable energy mix that comprises coal, solar, wind, hydro, gas and nuclear energy … Nuclear has the possibility of generating well over 9000 megawatts, while shale gas is recognised as a game changer for our economy.”

“We will promote local procurement and increase domestic production by having the state buy 75% of goods and services from South African producers.”

“We will sharpen the implementation of the amended Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act, in order to transform the ownership, management and control of the economy.”

“The total assets of our Development Finance Institutions amount to some R230 billion …  will be repositioned in the next five years to become real engines of socio-economic development.”

“We have identified agriculture as a key job driver  … target is for the agricultural sector to create a million jobs by 2030  .. Government will provide comprehensive support to smallholder farmers by speeding up land reform and providing technical, infrastructural and financial support.”

“We will also re-open the period for the lodgement of claims for the restitution of land for a period of five years’”

 

SONA debate, Malema response, expulsion and EFF walkout

The fractious debate that followed …

During his maiden speech to parliament, in reaction to Jacob Zuma’s address, EFF leader Julius Malema said: “The ANC government massacred those people in Marikana”. This led to an objection, a refusal by Malema to withdraw the statement, his expulsion from the House and a raucous walkout by the EFF. During the walkout, EFF members “howled and barked several derogatory utterances and made disturbing gestures,” according to Stone Sezani, ANC chief whip, which may lead to further disciplinary action against some EFF parliamentarians.

So what?

The State of the Nation address was marginally relevant and pretty tedious, but the colourful and combative follow-up presages a new atmosphere in the hallowed halls of the National Assembly. The EFF runs the risk of being characterised as a gaggle of truculent children, but the important issue here is that the party is articulating views that are probably mainstream in the black middle class.

In the words of widely respected ex-editor of the Sunday Times Mondli Makhanya, the EFF is challenging the “too good to be true” seamless transition from “the apartheid past to the democratic present”.

The main reasons Mr Makhanya welcomes the EFF’s parliamentary challenge, according to City Press, are that “unencumbered by the guilt of being beneficiaries of an evil system, white South Africans carried on with life as normal and did not feel the need to assist in redress. They took advantage of the opportunities democracy created and made full use of the head-start they had on the newly levelled playing fields. The tough conversation about correcting the wrongs of the past was given cosmetic treatment. If truth be told, one of the really good stories of the past 20 years is the fantastic story of guiltless white comfort.”

The point for Mr Makhanya is that the “questions the EFF is asking about the post-1994 dispensation are tough but necessary. The language is rough but it might just be the ice water the nation needs to wake itself. Its conduct is often uncouth, but that might be what we need to keep us alert.”

 

Land expropriation, South African style

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has published a draft proposal that he describes as an “opening gambit” to speed up the redress of black landowners’ apartheid-era dispossession, according to the Sunday Times. (I covered these proposals in some detail ages ago, but the ST treated it as if it was brand new so I thought I better deal with it as if it was.)

The proposal is for commercial farmers to give half their farms to farm workers, “proportional to their contribution to the development of the land based on the number of years they have worked on the land”. The initial proposal (published on 9 April 2014) is that government would pay for the 50%, but that the money would not go to the owner, but to an “investment and development fund to be jointly owned by the parties constituting the new ownership regime,” according to the Sunday Times.

So what?

This proposal is similar to the charter process in the mining industry, whereby various transformation targets are linked to the process of renewal of mining rights – although the Mining Charter does not envisage that workers on mines would or should own significant parts of those companies.

I think this should be seen as a ‘bargaining position’ by government, albeit one that is likely to cause significant anxiety in the farming sector.

The ANC is under increasing pressure to deliver on promises to change the patterns of racial ownership and control of all aspects of the economy.  Transformation of the agricultural sector is attractive to the ANC, because it satisfies a number of imperatives: redress, creation of small businesses and black economic empowerment. However the ANC has also shown itself to be concerned about food security and property rights. Up until now. the ANC has upheld the idea that while land might be expropriated, this would not be done without a fair price being paid.

Mr Nkwinti’s proposals are virgin territory and probably primarily a warning shot across the bows of commercial agriculture, encouraging them to come up with workable and radical solutions to the racially skewed ownership patterns on the land. April next year has been set as the deadline for responses to the proposal.

 

… which I entirely doubt will be made glorious summer by this sun of KZN when he gives his 5th nth State of the Nation Address this evening.

I am not, as my children might have said, very amped for this.

The only ray of light so far (I am watching on eNCA) was a brief interview with Floyd Shivambu who suggested it should be a ‘state of the resignation address’ … that if the President couldn’t make it to the Cabinet Lekgotla ‘then it would be best for him to just come here to explain that he is just too old and tired and to say goodbye’ – or words to that effect.

I thought I would use the time to publish some bits and pieces that I have sent to my clients over the last week.

The winter of our discontent – as the labour relations cycle meets a secular trend

Every year at this time South Africa is engulfed in strikes as annual wage agreements are traditionally renegotiated in several sectors of the economy. Every year analysts and journalists pontificate widely about the dire labour relations conditions – and the gloom deepens because this all takes place in winter.

Three factors this year are probably going to make the outlook more negative and threatening.

Firstly, the post national election winter has, since 1994, been characterised by spikes in service delivery protests. The causes of this phenomenon are not fully understood, but it is likely that:

  • voters confronting a hostile winter and declining services levels – so soon after being promised the earth by politicians – are likely to be unsettled;
  • local politicians who failed to make party lists begin mobilising factional support, perhaps to stand as candidates in 2016 local government elections, perhaps to discredit those whose positions they covet.

Secondly, the platinum strike is being driven by a number of ‘political’ factors – as discussed previously.

Thirdly Numsa is showing clear signs that its political aspirations are, as we predicted, going to drive deeper and more robust strikes and labour unrest. One sign is the growing violence as Numsa attempts to widen its action at the Ngqura container terminal in the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth.  The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (a Cosatu union) is opposing the Numsa strike and is calling for its members to stay at work at the Transnet facility. However, both Transnet and Satawu were quoted on radio (SAFM 20h00 news broadcast 08/06/2014) as decrying the burning of houses and cars of the workers who were at work. The SATAWU spokesperson warned that the situation had similar dynamics to those that were present in the platinum sector in 2012 – that this ‘is just like what happened with Amcu (same broadcast).

Additionally, Numsa is preparing to lead 220,000 workers out on strike from the metals and engineering sector next month. “The bargaining negotiations have spectacularly failed to produce the desired outcomes as expected by the thousands of our members in the sector,” spokesman Castro Ngobese said in a statement quoted in The Herald (5/06/2014). Numsa’s core demands includes a 15% pay rise and a one-year bargaining agreement, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa, which represents 23 employer associations) has offered an inflation-linked increase of 6.1 percent.

So what?

This is the cycle meeting the secular trend, with each driving the other deeper than either would have been driven ordinarily. Numsa is in the  process of breaking away from Cosatu and is beginning to vigorously compete with other Cosatu unions in overlapping sectors (container terminals, the big electricity generation projects and down and upstream mining and metallurgy operations).  This is, at least partly, about Numsa preparing to set up a ‘left’ party to compete for votes in the future. Comparable (but not identical) dynamics are driving the platinum strike. A winter with ‘normally’ increased social and industrial unrest will probably become unusually bleak and unwelcoming in the months ahead. The impact on GDP growth and on the possibility of ratings downgrades are both important considerations.

 

X Rated

Both Fitch and Standard & Poor made references on Friday (13/06/2014) to increased political risk when they changed their views on the South African government’s willingness and ability to pay the sovereign debt.

Fitch revised the outlook for South Africa to negative from stable and affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings at BBB and BBB+ respectively. S&P downgraded both the country’s local and foreign currency ratings by one notch from A- to BBB+ and BBB to BBB-  respectively, but moved its outlook negative to stable. None of this is a catastrophe  but of interest to us here is the central role of ‘politics’ in the given reasons for both Fitch’s and S&P’s changes.

Fitch says it most baldly in the press release announcing the change in outlook (my emphasis added):

“Following its election victory in May with 62% of the vote, the African National Congress government faces a challenging task to raise the country’s growth rate and improve social conditions, which has been made more difficult by the weaker growth performance and deteriorating trends in governance and corruption. This will require an acceleration of structural reforms, such as those set out in the comprehensive National Development Plan (NDP). In Fitch’s view, the track record of some key ministerial appointments and shortcomings in administrative capacity mean this is subject to downside risks.”

Fitch gives amongst the key drivers of its more negative outlook: “Increased strike activity, high wage demands and electricity constraints represent negative supply side shock.”

Standard and Poor’s downgrade was similarly motivated but adds some additional concerns:

“While we think that President Jacob Zuma’s newly elected administration will continue the policies of his first administration, which controlled fiscal expenditure and fostered broadly stable prices, we do not believe it will manage to undertake major labor or other economic reforms that will significantly boost GDP growth”.

My initial take on the new Cabinet is supportive of these motivations.

In addition both agencies made extensive reference to the negative industrial relations environment – and the negative impacts on GDP growth and government revenues. There is a significant political dimension driving industrial unrest – as I have argued above.

So what?

The validity of the actual ratings and ratings outlook of these agencies is much disputed[1] but the issues they use to motivate their views are interesting because they (the agencies) are cautious; clinging to a sort of ‘average view’ of investors. So if political criticism makes its way into the text (as is the case in both these instances) we are obliged to consider that these may represent, or may come to represent, a general view in markets.

South Africa has a small open economy and liquid financial markets and the difference that policy makers can make to economic outcomes is limited. But even within those limitations too many political choices (certain cabinet appointments, corruption controls, delivery performance and the honest brokering of labour contestation) are either not helping or are actively negative.

[1]No-one could have failed to notice the excoriating criticism of the credit rating agencies (CRAs) after their generalised failure to accurately assess the risks associated with the collateralised debt obligations allegedly because they were mostly issued by the CRAs biggest paying clients! However, it is the opposite with sovereigns: “It has also been suggested that the credit agencies are conflicted in assigning sovereign credit ratings since they have a political incentive to show they do not need stricter regulation by being overly critical in their assessment of governments they regulate.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_rating_agency (accessed 13h56 16/06/2014.

 

The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions

I  dealt with this issue last week, but it is making bigger and more anxiety provoking headlines than ever.

So what

The NDPP was drawn into the fight between Mbeki and Zuma and since that time has limped along to the rhythm of one or other faction aligned to competing interests within the ANC seizing or losing power in the institution. This is not a situation in which one could safely choose one set of ‘good guys’ and back them against another set of ‘bad guys’. The situation is complex but relates primarily to the on-going struggle to either ensure that certain senior political leaders are brought to justice or to ensure that they are not.

The NDPP is one of the most important institutions of the justice system, and without certainty and stability here it is impossible to have certainty about the operating environment for any business in the country. This is a serious problem and it appears to be getting worse under the current administration.

 

Platinum Strike

(This is a bit dated, but you might be interested in my rude remarks about the new minister.)

“Government is ready to wash its hands of the protracted wage strike by platinum mineworkers in Rustenburg” according to the Sunday Independent 08/06/2014. Mines minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi threatened to pull out his inter-ministerial task team if a settlement was not reached at the last scheduled government facilitated meeting, which is due to take place today.

In addition, a formal ANC statement delivered by Gwede Mantashe at a press conference in Luthuli House in Johannesburg last night after the ANC weekend lekgotla[1] characterised the strike in a way that seemed to destroy the remote possibility that Ramatlhodi could have made a difference anyway:

“The articulation of AMCU position by white foreign nationals, signalling interest of the foreign forces in the distabilisation (sic) of our economy.

The direct participation of EFF in the negotiations, and thus collaboration with the foreign forces.

These two factors led the lekgotla into cautioning the Ministry of Mineral Resources in handling the facilitation with care. There were questions about the role of the state in workplace disputes where there are clear rules guiding it.”

This statement is interesting precisely because it borders on the bizarre

So what

The ANC statement indicates shows just why the new ANC minister cannot be an honest or effective broker in the negotiation – and it is therefore unsurprising that he is preparing to withdraw his team. The ANC is compelled to believe that this strike is only not ‘negotiable’ in the normal manner because the real issues driving it are political  and not about wages at all. The ANC might be correct about the strike being ‘political’ but the party itself is culpable of having politicised the strike by attempting to defend its Num ally against the vigorously growing Amcu, by alienating workers by characterising their union as ‘vigilantes’ and by the ‘Marikana massacre itself.’ s – There was never any real possibility of this government mediating between the parties or influencing the outcome.

 

Concerns about property rights

The South African Institute of Race Relations and AfriBusiness (AfriSake) have recently released warnings about property rights in South Africa. A proper assessment of these warning would require specialist legal opinions, but our own assumptions have long been that the South African Constitution provides adequate protections for private property (see here) and the ANC government is unlikely to risk fiddling with these principles.

However it seems to be a basic due diligence requirement to keep an eye on the risk – perhaps more so since Jacob Zuma spelled out at his Cabinet announcement (reiterating many recent ANC and SACP statements) that we are entering a “more radical” phase of economic transformation.

With this is mind, we reproduce the basic summary of legal concerns AfriBusiness and the South African Institute of Race Relations have raised in their research (note that below is a direct quote from the AfriBusiness statement linked above):

  1. The National Development Plan has as its aim the transfer of 20% of the agricultural land in a district to black recipients, at only 50% of the value as determined by the state (in terms of the Property Valuation Bill).
  2. The verdict of the Constitutional Court in April 2013 in the case of AgriSA v the Minister of Minerals and Energy distinguishes between “deprivation” and “expropriation”. After the verdict the state is able to dispossess and redistribute property, as long as the state does not assume ownership of the property and act (sic) only as custodian.
  3. The Green Paper on Land Reform aims a radical redesign of property rights, with inter alia a type of freehold on land which will drastically limit the rights of owners. Within this context a Land Management Commission is proposed, which will have discretionary powers regarding disputes over title deeds.
  4. The policy proposal by the Minister of Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, for “Strengthening the rights of workers working the land” aims to transfer 50% of the land to the workers, commensurate with their term of service. No compensation will be paid to the owner.
  5. The Expropriation Bill poses that expropriation may be used for the public interest and public goal. The Bill is not only applicable to land but will cover all types of property. Public interest and public goal are determined in an ad hoc manner and both have restitution as aim.
  6. The Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill allows state intervention in investment processes. The Bill explicitly provides for expropriation at less than market value. All in the name of so-called restitution. Any property used for commercial purposes is targeted by the Bill.
  7. The Infrastructure Development Bill aims to eliminate so-called inequalities in infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission is granted the authority to expropriate in the public interest and for the public goal.
  8. The Spatial Planning and Management of Land Use Act aims at centralized planning of land ownership. It proposed so-called spatial justice by integrating low and high cost housing in residential developments.
  9. The Extension of the Security of Tenure Amendment Bill expands the rights of occupants and their dependents. Evictions are strictly controlled and the Amendment Bill means a significant loss in control over property.
  10. The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill creates further political and economic uncertainty regarding the future of property rights.
  11. The Rental Housing Amendment Bill proposes stricter regulation of the rental property market. Rental Tribunals will be established to hear disputes and will be able to determine increases in rent.
  12. The National Water Amendment Bill and Policy Review prohibits the trading of water rights and proposes a use-it-or-lose-it principle for water rights. Equality (including racial transformation) becomes the criterium (sic) for the allocation and re-allocation of water rights.

Consume that with the requisite amount of salt but keep an eye on the detail.

 

[1]Sesotho loan word meaning court or community council meeting; used in the South African context a “lekgotla is a meeting called by government, Cabinet or the ANC to discuss strategy planning”. Wikipedia accessed 04h30 09/06/2014.

 

There is something strangely compelling about Chris Griffith’s now infamous comments about his salary and perks – published in Business Day last week.

Remember these are the words of the CEO of Amplats, the biggest platinum company in the world. It cannot have escaped your notice that a bitter and grinding strike throughout the South African platinum sector is entering its 17th week. The Business Day story about the comments also refers to the 2013 Amplats annual report that mentions Mr Griffiths was paid R17.6m, of which R6.7m was a basic salary, for that year.

I have put the following quotes from Chris Griffith in the order in which they appear in the story but they did not necessarily flow together like this in the original interview:

If this debate is around the comparison of CEO pay and somebody else, then we’re completely missing the point. There is a greater supply of lower-skilled people … What the unions are doing is putting more people out on the street … Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth.

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

I wish to apologise to the employees of Anglo American Platinum and the readership for comments I made in a Business Day article on Wednesday … My choice of words was inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

But the truth of the matter is that Griffith’s original comments are clearly what the company believes because this is what it does. Everything else is public relations and spin.

At the AGM of a listed company shareholders vote approval or otherwise of executive remuneration. So in one way or another the actual owners of this company are happy to pay Griffith’s fee. The company either believes he is worth that (and they pay him for it) or they do not believe he is worth it (and they pay him less … and perhaps he doesn’t accept the job.)

This might feel monstrous and unfair to you and me – especially when we read of the hardship experienced by the workers on those mines and the sacrifices they seem prepared to make to improve their lot. But in the world in which these hugely powerful companies operate, supply and demand is the basic mechanism that determines the price of everything.

I don’t like euphemisms – it is (almost) always better to see the snarling teeth of the beast rather than to be beguiled by its fake smile.

The whole exchange reminds me of a P. J. O’Rourke essay I read several years ago.

He’s talking about bigotry in apartheid South Africa (and be warned he uses language often considered to be rude or impolite*):

Everywhere you go in the world somebody’s raping women, expelling the ethnic Chinese, enslaving stone-age tribesmen, shooting communists, rounding up Jews, kidnapping Americans, settling fire to Sikhs, keeping Catholics out of the country clubs and hunting peasants from helicopters with automatic weapons. The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The problem with South Africans is they admit it. They don’t say, like the French, “Algerians have a legal right to live in the sixteenth arrondissement, but they can’t afford to.” They don’t say, like the Israelis, “Arabs have a legal right to live in West Jerusalem, but they’re afraid to.” They don’t say, like the Americans, “Indians have a legal right to live in Ohio, but oops, we killed them all.” The South Africans just say, “Fuck you.” I believe it’s right there in their constitution: “Article IV: Fuck you. We’re bigots.” We hate them for this. And we’re going to hold indignant demonstrations…until the South Africans learn to stand up and lie like white men.

That’s P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays In Hell,  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. It’s very, very funny – albeit irritatingly smug and right-wing. I have long since lost the book, but I found that quote here.

 

(Below anxiously added a few hours after initial publication.)

* And be further warned that he (O’Rourke) is sneakily winking at apartheid … weellll, at least they** don’t lie about it! 

** And be even further warned that he talked about “South Africans” in 1988 as if the term referred elusively exclusively to white South Africans who supported apartheid.

(Lawdy, enough already! Just leave it alone, the damage is done – Ed.)

(… and finally, despite Ed’s protestations, and after having glanced over this several weeks after publishing it: PJO also failed to understand the systemic and systematic nature of apartheid …. ‘hunting peasants from helicopters’ is an outrage, but comparing that to ‘apartheid’, the specific historical system of government and social control for a whole country,  is a category error.)

 

 

Forgive the dearth of postings here … I was brought low by some late winter dreaded lurgy and as a result my life came to grinding halt for almost two weeks.

The big story (which I will deal with later today or tomorrow)  is the astonishingly decisively manner in which the ANC and its government is blocking Cosatu on a whole range of policy issues … immediately prior to an election.

Later today I will  attempt to assess whether the medium-term budget policy statement holds the same line, particularly with regard to the public sector wage bill. If it does then I am going to have to start reassessing whether Jacob this-isn’t-some-African-shithole Zuma is quite as soft-in-the-middle on policy as I have previously asserted. The implications of the putatively shifting position are huge and, I suspect, driven by a complex and contradictory set of factors.

Meanwhile here is an excerpt from my weekly news commentary describing the rising decibels and pitch of the moan coming from business and its representatives (and from financial markets in general) around policy, especially policy related to the labour market. The ascending pitch and loudness of the whine are undoubtedly two of the factors pushing Zuma’s showdown with Cosatu – but I think it would be premature to think of the president’s actions as primarily about bowing down to business and the diktats of global capital markets.

South Africa deteriorating investment destination

Complaints about South Africa’s hostile policy environment are getting louder.

Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese added his voice to a chorus complaining about a hostile investment environment in South Africa. In other African countries “infrastructure is improving, border crossings are becoming easier, more property development is taking place and, in some cases, they are offering more opportunities.” But in South Africa government is “certainly not cooperative” and “one is left with the impression that government sees business as the opposition, not as a partner … you can’t have German rules because we can’t administer them,”

The wizened and iconoclastic Christo Wiese held up Angola, Nigeria and, especially, Rwanda as improving business destinations. South Africa’s labour regime, according to Wiese, is becoming one of the greatest inducements to invest in other African countries. (Wiese was quoted in an interesting interview with Chris Barron in the Sunday Times 22/10/2013 – here’s a link to the republished article in Business Day … Barron is always interesting and not to be missed in your weekly news read.)

Wiese’s comments came soon after Moody’s Investor Services said in a credit opinion on 12 October that South Africa’s elevated strike activity continues to affect the investment climate. “BMW’s announcement that South Africa has been removed for consideration for the new car is tangible evidence of the negative impact that the increase in work days lost to strikes in the past two years is likely to pose for the medium-term outlook of the economy … Such decisions are likely to be repeated by other companies when such significant losses are incurred -” Bloomberg and Moody’s Credit Opinion 12/10/2013.

In the same week Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said (after the company was again battered by strikes) that it “is not possible that we can continue with these kinds of strikes, which are having an effect not only on the mining sector but all sectors of the economy. It’s hurting the economy … It is impacting jobs” – Business Day 16/10/2013.

From extensive plans to cut 230,000ozs of achievable platinum as well as 14 000 jobs announced in January this year, Amplats appears to have been steadily successfully bullied back by unions, government and the ANC from doing what it initially intended.

Read against South Africa’s scores in the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 2014 (click here for a full copy) some of this anxiety seems justified. While South Africa is ranked 53rd this year out of 148 countries, the quality of the educational system is very poor at 146th, as was labour market efficiency at 116th – and ‘hiring and firing practices’ and ‘wage flexibility’ at 147th and 144th respectively. The ability of the employer to respond quickly to changing production needs for skills and size of workforce is called ‘labour market flexibility’- and aggregating our performance in these categories suggests a serious deficit compared with our peers.

Okay, so that sets the background for a follow-on post (today or tomorrow) dealing with the now unavoidable conclusion that Zuma’s government appears to be risking the wrath of its left-wing allies with regard to a range of policy measures. The important question to answer is ‘why’ is the ANC drawing the line? And why now?

 

Herewith an extract from my recent political news update.

Strikes – turbulence as the cycle hits the secular trend

Num (the National Union of Mineworkers) has served notice on the Chamber of Mines (COM) of its intention to strike across the gold sector, beginning with the Tuesday night shift this week. Num represents 72,000 of the country’s 120,000 goldmine workers. The Chamber made a final offer of a 6-6.5% wage increase, while Num is holding out for 60%. Amcu, which is also represented in the gold sector (now 19% of workforce according to the COM, but possibly as high as 30%,) wants a 150% increase but has not announced that it intends to strike, and nor have Solidarity and Uasa.

There are ongoing strikes by workers in auto manufacturing, construction and aviation services and threatened strikes among textile workers and petrol station employees – but these strikes are, at this stage, part of the normal cycle.

So what?

I mentioned previously:

“South Africa has a predictable strike season, the timing of which coincides with the expiration of bargaining chamber agreements in different sectors of the economy. Every year it appears that a wave of strikes is enveloping the country, but at some time during the gloom, journalists twig to the fact that this happens every year – much of the flurry in normal and predictable” – April 29 2013.

Several such ‘predictable’ strikes are happening or about to happen as I write this.

However, the gold sector breakdown is outside of the normal cycle both in how far the negotiating parties are away from each (6-6.5% versus 60-150%) and in the complex game being played between Num and Amcu. Amcu has quietly welcomed the impending strike as a chance to prove that, in fact, Num does not represent the majority of workers at key mines. On Friday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said Num’s strike would “qualify” its official representivity of more than 60%. He urged that everyone should “watch this space”.

Business Report in the Sunday Independent argues that South Africa’s four biggest gold producers are hoarding cash and lining up access to more in preparing for an industry wide strike. “If we are, let’s say, bullied into a situation that we don’t like, we can ride out the storm for a very long period of time,” said Sibanye chief executive Neal Froneman in the Bloomberg sourced story.

The essence of the gamesmanship between Num and Amcu is Num must demand and win an increase via strike action that is satisfactory to its membership, and Amcu must try and undermine the strike action and argue that, anyway, the ‘demand’ in the Num led strike is inadequate. On mines where Amcu dominates (in the Carletonville region at AngloGold, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold) Amcu must attempt to force mines out of the central bargaining process by ensuring that no central agreement can achieve a sustainable settlement at the local mine or company level.

Lock-out

An interesting discussion in today’s Business Day by the always excellent Carol Paton suggests that employers with large Amcu membership, specifically at Amcu strongholds at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng mine; Harmony’s Kusasalethu and Sibanye’s Driefonteing favour a lock-out because they believe Amcu will sit out the Num strike and then strike themselves once that is settled. Paton’s story suggests that by locking workers out employers force all workers into one camp. “By declaring a lockout, employers would get around this problem, through forcing Amcu into the dispute now and exhausting workers’ resources to endure a strike.”

Alliance Summit

The African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African National Civics Organisation met in a long postponed summit over the weekend to discuss and agree upon economic policy. The premise of the discussion was “unless we make significant inroads in addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, the democratic constitutional gains of the first phase of our transition will themselves be eroded” – from the Summit Declaration.

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that:

“… stagnation continues to characterise the developed economies, there has now been a significant slowing of growth in key developing economies, including China, India and Brazil. The commodity super-cycle of the recent past is now over. This has had an impact on economies dependent upon the export of industrial minerals and coal. The attempts to refloat growth in the US with a loose money policy have created further turbulence in many developing economies like SA.”

The Summit went to some lengths to defend against the accusation that poor economic performance was in any way related failures of “the South African government, or the labour movement”. Instead, the summit declaration lists achievements in infrastructure build, land reform and youth and labour market reform.

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

… bold forms of state intervention, including through:

  • Financial regulation and control;

  • Progressive and redistributive taxation

  • Wage and income policies, and progressive competition policies that promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.

  • A well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy

  • Increased state ownership and control in strategic sectors, where deemed appropriate on the balance of evidence, and the more effective use of state-owned enterprises.

So what?

The Alliance Summit used all the right language to keep the different elements of the alliance together but said nothing that might reassure spooked investors.

The opposite is probably true. Just look at the words: “progressive and redistributive taxation”, “well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy”, “increased state ownership” and “wage and income policies … that … promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.”

This is not the language that Kgalema Motlanthe used as he attempted to pacify investors at the presidential mining lekgotla in Johannesburg last week, but it is precisely the atmosphere of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s words at the Africa Down Under mining conference Perth, Western Australia last week when she said investors had to “moderate” the rates of return they expected to earn on their investments so as to allow for the social expenditures that need to be made (Business Day August 28).

The ANC and government are increasingly schizophrenic in their attempts to keep everyone (constituents, allies and investors) happy. In trying to keep everyone happy the ANC and the government seem more likely to achieve generalised dissatisfaction.

Criminal justice system appropriately named

The lead stories in the Weeklies were indicative of a growing anxiety about the criminal justice system. The Sunday Times led with “Magistrates: drunks, thieves and killers” and the other papers all discussed National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega’s embarrassment after she announced the appointment of a Major-General Mondli Zuma and then quickly reversed that when she was told that Zuma (whose relationship to the President is unknown to me) was being tried for driving under the influence of alcohol, failing to comply with a traffic officer’s instructions to stop at a roadblock, escaping lawful custody, defeating the ends of justice and refusing to have a blood alcohol sample taken.

So what

This might look like a circus but there is a darker element to the state of the criminal justice system than is not immediately obvious in these comical stories. In the Sunday Independent, journalist Nathi Oliphant writes about the security and justice sector: “President Jacob Zuma has unflinchingly stuck to his guns in promoting ‘his own’ into key positions”.

The security apparatuses and the criminal justice system more generally has been profoundly weakened by political interference and the dismaying newspaper headlines about criminality amongst magistrates and senior police generals is just the visible tip of the problem of that, in part, originates in political fiddling in the security and justice clusters and institutions.

Editor flees from Gupta TV

“Visibly terrified and hiding in a Johannesburg hotel room, the former consulting editor at ANN7 has made explosive claims about visits by channel bosses to President Jacob Zuma, where Zuma made editorial recommendations and was ‘given assurances by the Guptas this channel was going to be pro-ANC’” – reads the lead story in City Press.

So what

Nothing, really. ANN7, or GuptaTV as it has been named in much of the South African media, continues to provide comic relief and excruciating embarrassment, in about equal measures (although I know a few professionals doing an honest day’s work there and I feel faintly protective of them). Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is probably no laughing matter, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the criminal justice system to test whether Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is in any way similar to his relationship with the Shaik brothers.

Herewith an extract from my weekly news commentary* as of 06h30 yesterday.

‘A minefield of obstacles for Motlanthe’ – Sunday Independent

 The Presidency, in the person of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, launched the “Draft Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry” on Friday. The document is based on an initial process of discussion with all interested parties (including, amongst others, Amcu, Num and the Chamber of Mines) and each party is expected (hoped) to ratify the agreement by June 26. The document essentially acknowledges the importance of the mining sector for investment, economic growth and employment. If it is ratified, all parties would be formally accepting the need to re-establish law-and-order in the sector, improve labour relations and address the housing and community needs of workers and their families, both near the mine and in the labour sending area. The document commits the government to ensuring “that the legislative and regulatory programmes provide predictability and certainty for the industry” including with regard to “tax policy” – those quotes from 6.1.4 and 6.2.1 of the draft document.

So what?

This initiative is no more than the minimum of what has been demanded of government, especially of the commanding heights of government, by most of those affected by the industrial relations crises in the platinum sector that began in early 2012. Thus, Jacob Zuma, and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, are looking busy and engaged with the crises and that will come as a welcome relief after what has appeared to be endless dithering and mixed messages.

However, there should be no expectation that the initiative will miraculously resolve the deep conflicts, both within government and ruling party policy and between the contesting trade unions. The Sunday Independent correctly points out that there is a tension in the government and ANC policy and the newspaper ascribes (or personifies) the tension as being between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (concerned about investment, profitability and revenues) on the one hand and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu as well as ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (concerned that mining companies owe South Africa, particularly black workers, a historic debt).

It is neat (but only partly accurate) to think of the policy conflict as being about the views of different powerful politicians within the government and the ruling party. The reality is that the ANC (and therefore, government) is, and has been since 1994, fundamentally torn between the economic necessity to reassure (mining and other) investors and the political imperative to demand redress and redistribution for its aggrieved constituents. Does the Motlanthe fronted attempt to negotiate a new understanding and modus operandi between the different interest groups in the mining sector represent a qualitative reassessment of where the ANC’s priorities lie? I doubt it, especially not 10 months before a national election where the ANC is starting to feel beset on several fronts but clearly (from a purely numeric perspective) has the most to win and the most to lose in the majority constituency of poor black South Africans.

It is tempting to see Kgalema Motlanthe’s role in the efforts to settle the sector as preparation for him to replace Susan Shabangu in the Minister of Mineral Resources post. Shabangu has gained a reputation as being instinctively suspicious of resource companies – although, again, I would suggest that this is more a characteristic of the ANC itself than of any particular individual. Motlanthe is perceived as ‘a good guy’, a person open to compromise, a peace-maker and a humble and loyal public servant. That would probably be a good thing for sentiment in the sector, but it would be important not to confuse form with content.

 

Julius Malema to party on down?

Malema has been explaining his decision to launch a new, yet to be formed, opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. He yesterday described the ANC as “on a downward spiral ideologically, politically and morally” and under Zuma, as being characterised by “tribalism, regionalism, factionalism and corruption”, essentially “an association of careerists and neo-liberal bureaucrats whose sole mission and role was protecting the interests of white monopoly capital” – see what essentially looks like his draft manifesto on Politicsweb.co.za. At the heart of the expressed policy of the proposed new party (announced in the run up to June 16 Youth Day commemoration) is the demand (that Malema was central to codifying as President of the ANC Youth League) for the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of white owned farm land.

So what?

Can Malema tap into the constituency of young black South Africans who feel abandoned by (or angry with) the ANC over its failure to affect more radical redress and redistribution measures? Can he win, as he promised last week, 5 million votes and thereby replace the Democratic Alliance as the official opposition? (Can he stay out of prison? – ed) Malema has an almost preternatural ability to identify, frame and play into the sense of disaffection amongst the most marginalised young black South Africans and he has the energy and charisma to at least make a go of forming a coherent opposition party. All his significant previous allies who have remained within the ANC (including Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale) came out strongly against of the former Youth League president over this last weekend.  Whether or not Malema manages to form the proposed Economic Freedom Fighters in time for it to have an impact in national elections next year, he will probably succeed in creating a gravitational pole that will keep the ANC from drifting towards business and financial markets. This will not be a new role for him.

 

Zimbabwe elections – Mugabe agrees to seek short delay

A South African Development Community (SADC) extraordinary summit met in Maputo, Mozambique on Saturday and Robert Mugabe acceded to the pressure to attempt to shift-out the July 31 date that had been set for the election in Zimbabwe that will bring to a close the current power sharing arrangement with the opposition Movement for a Democratic Change. Jacob Zuma is the SADC facilitator attempting to radically reform the regulatory, governance and security framework that allowed widespread repression and cheating in the failed 2008 election. None of the parties are ready for an election (including Zanu-PF which, amongst other problems, is riven with division at a central level and in key provinces Masvingo, Bulawayo and Manicaland).

So what?

The key reforms that must be in place for an election to succeed in Zimbabwe relate to control of the security apparatuses and to ensuring impartiality of those apparatuses and to establishing the impartiality of the state-owned media. Also, voter registration and various administrative issues need to be completed or rectified before the election takes place if it is to be ‘free and fair’. Zimbabwe is experiencing the beginnings of an economic recovery. This might benefit the incumbents (Zanu-PF) but the opposition hopes that the growing spirit of optimism will lead voters into their fold. There are no reliable opinion polls, so we will have to wait and see. The significant natural mineral assets, the exceptional tourism possibilities and the fact that a huge but uncounted Zimbabwean diaspora is in South Africa are amongst the issues that make the outcomes of what happens in Zimbabwe important.

Bits and pieces

  • City Press led with ‘War for Gaddafi billions’, based on the premise that two competing Libyan groups are in the country attempting to recover a fortune in gold, cash and diamonds that he (Gaddafi) allegedly stashed here – including a sizeable chunk “in gold bars in safe storage at OR Tambo International Airport” and in cash pallets held in the Reserve Bank. The story claims the Libyan factions are attempting to dangle the promise that the money will be used to buy South African manufactured armaments and that recovery of the many billions of dollars’ worth of assets would earn a 10% finder’s fee. The payload of the story comes in this paragraph: “According to Erasmus (a ‘controversial South African arms dealer’), Mphafudi (‘an ANC connected businessman’) and Maleka (‘the ANC security head’) were working with two Libyan investigators …. (Erasmus) claims that both South Africans accompanied the Libyans to see President Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla homestead.” (The Sunday Times reported that Zuma was accompanied by his cousin Deebo Mzobe during the meeting). Hmm. (Clarifications and emphasis in that quote from the City Press article added by me – ed).
  • Telkom’s bid to sort out its ‘legacy issues’ – by the “write-off of R12 billion in defunct assets” and by the settlement of its various cases with the competition authority – got headline coverage in City Press. “Our key shareholders are frustrated, our customers are frustrated and I can promise that we will not repeat the same mistakes of the past,” said new broom CEO Sipho Maseko last week. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Tina Joemat-Pettersson (Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) was directly accused on the front page of the Sunday Times of receiving a kickback of R100 000 in 2006 for her efforts in closing the purchase of Sunset Game Lodge, outside Douglas, while she was provincial minister in the Northern Cape. The allegation is serious, but as the story points out she is ‘the Teflon Minister’ and it is by no means clear that she will ever meet her comeuppance, no matter what she does or how badly she performs.
  • “Waterkloof scapegoat on warpath” – reports the Mail & Guardian. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, the movement control officer at Waterkloof airbase who was accused of being one of two key rule breakers that allowed the now infamous Gupta wedding party to land and be ferried from the strategically important military base, is approaching the public protector for relief. The Gupta’s of Sahara Computing are friends and funders of Jacob Zuma and his family and it is widely assumed that there was tacit pressure placed on Anderson and other officials to let the friends of “Number One” pass. This is an ugly affair where the real wrongdoers, the powerful and abusive politicians and their friends, get off scot-free and loyal and faithful officials take the fall.
  • Nelson Mandela’s health remains a key media topic (he’s still in hospital) and the symbol of the man is already deeply contested, especially between the ANC and the DA in the lead-up to next year’s elections. Mandela is an almost life-long ANC member and leader, but the DA is attempting (not altogether successfully) to argue that they are the true inheritor of his mantle while the ANC has drifted into a wilderness of incompetence and corruption. If Nelson Mandela dies between now and the national election next year, the essence of this contest would play itself out on perhaps the largest global stage in the history of human-kind.

* I write this news summary for clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities and send it to them at 06h30 Mondays (Tuesday this week) and I occasionally republish it here a few days later if I think it might be of more general interest. I am, of course, grateful to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to do this.

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.

In high anxiety at my failure to publish here for several weeks (what with 12 days visiting fund managers in the UK and Europe and new commitments to the Daily Maverick – see here and here for the first two of those) I have decided to again post a modified version of my usually bespoke  ‘SA Political news commentary’ … to show willing; to demonstrate that I am not entirely unembarrassed that my last post, which was also a news commentary, was on March 18.

Perhaps I am edging towards closing down this blog … but I am not quite done yet, and for those who have stuck with me this long, I thank you.

So here,  written to a deadline of 06h30 yesterday, slightly modified for my hanging-by-a-thread website:

SA Political News update 23/04/2013

Cosatu and the ruling alliance: corruption claims and counterclaims

According to the Mail & Guardian (April 19-25), the battle for control of Cosatu is becoming ever more vicious. The article states that behind the noise is an apparent attempt by the ANC to close down a powerful left faction in Cosatu that has been critical of both corruption and the alleged adoption of ‘pro-business’ policies by the ANC and government. The main issues over which the battle is playing out are:

  • Allegations made (according to the M&G) by “an informal caucus … of senior leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, Popcru, Sadtu, Cepawu [they mean CEPPWAWU, I think – ed], the SACP and the ANC[1]” that Zwelinzima Vavi, the popular Cosatu Secretary General, has engaged in corrupt activity and is disloyal to the ANC-led alliance, including by failing to adequately support Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung.
  • A flood of accusations made through the Cosatu linked NGO Corruption Watch that many of the leaders of unions involved in attacking Vavi are themselves corrupt – Mail & Guardian in a story that works more by insinuation rather than actual content – see here  for the story that was later denied by Corruption watch here).
  • The proposal made by Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) for a special Cosatu congress to resolve this issue, opposed by the group named in the first bullet, but supported by Numsa, Samwu and several smaller unions[2].
  • Support for and against the National Development Plan.

So what?

Business might be tempted to fold its arms and sit back and delight that the old ‘thorn in the side’ Cosatu is being riven by tension. However, it is worth recalling that some industrial relations consultants also delighted in the emergence of Amcu in the platinum sector as a counter to Num for similar reasons – and look how that played out. The serious political conflict in Cosatu could as easily result in higher levels of labour unrest, with higher levels of unpredictability, in a wide variety of industries than in a generally more compliant labour movement. Several multi-year wage agreements are coming up for review before the end of this year (including in the automobile, chemical, gold mining, coal mining, retail motor industry and tyre sectors – which historically have been trendsetters – Business Times). Add to this my uncertainty as to whether the tight three-year public sector wage agreement set last year will hold under strain caused by a combination of:

  • the (welcome) reforming zeal of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu,
  • government’s apparent attempt to roll back the power of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, and
  • the generally difficult economic circumstances for union members,
  • the successes of the wildcat strikes, particularly in the platinum sector last year, perhaps having established a new baseline for increase expectation throughout the economy

and it is not inconceivable that we could have another year of potentially devastating labour unrest.

If the government’s (and the ANC’s) intention was to have a showdown with organised labour over economic growth and stability that would be one thing. But I suspect that the evident intervention in Cosatu is based on the sectarian interests at the ruling faction of the alliance rather than in any real desire to pursue the national good. If that faction faction successfully expels Vavi they might precipitate a split in Cosatu and the long awaited formation of a new ‘left’ political formation … and just by the act of pushing, through what appears to be a dirty tricks campaign, for this outcome the ruling faction risks rapidly escalating labour unrest.

The DA and the ANC try on their best dresses (or maybe not)  for Election 2014

The DA has launched a campaign attempting to burnish its anti-apartheid credentials, including publishing a pamphlet with a picture of Nelson Mandela embracing deceased party stalwart Helen Suzman under the caption: “We played our part in opposing apartheid”.

At the same time, the Mail & Guardian has published excerpts of what it calls ‘draft DA election material’ which explicitly compares the ANC to the National Party. The M&G’s quotes from the draft document include the arguments that under Zuma’s ANC there is a “rise of Zulu nationalism and racist rhetoric” and “as was the case with apartheid, the ANC is using the police to suppress criticism of its government”.

In the City Press and Sunday Independent, the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has separate opinion pieces that argue that the DA’s attempt to appropriate Nelson Mandela is “an abuse of the human and humble character of this icon”. He adds that the DA “remains a brazen advocate for white domination and privilege, and for elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.

So what?

The general election next year is likely to be messy and disruptive – sustaining the apparently endless flow of unsettling news coming out of South Africa. From this far out it appears possible that the ANC will be arguing that the electoral issues are essentially identical to what they were in 1994 (white domination and the legacy of apartheid) and that the DA will be arguing that that is just an excuse for delivery failure – it would be difficult to conjure up a more divisive and unhelpful framing of the issues 20 years after the first democratic election.

The unravelling of the Mandela legacy

The weeklies have a flood of stories that pick away at the fabric of the Mandela story. A reality TV show “Being Mandela” is reviewed in the Sunday Times under the heading “Opening up the canned Mandelas – comic kugels[3] help deflate the myth”. The show “unveils the vacuous, pampered lives of two of Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini” – Sunday Times.

The Sunday Independent leads with a review of “struggle stalwart” Amina Cachalia’s new book “When Hope and History Rhyme” in which, among many other matters, she reveals aspects of her own alleged romantic relationship with Nelson Mandela post his marriage to Graça Machel.

All of this comes as a bitter fight among Mandela’s children (with, among others, Nelson Mandela nominees George Bizos and Tokyo Sexwale) for control of various trusts that Nelson Mandela set up on his children’s behalf comes to a head in the Johannesburg High Court – The Sunday Tribune.

So what?

There may be some inherent advantages to the exposing of myths and legends as … myths and legends – but there really appears to be no upside to this depressing deflation. None of these stories changes the reality of the 94 year old South African former president’s contribution to the South African democracy and state-craft in general, but the incessant exposure does add to the gathering gloom around the South African story.

Bits and pieces

  • The Youth Employment Accord has finally been signed after three years of squabbling in the National Economic Development and Labour council (Nedlac). Not unexpectedly, it does not include a youth wage subsidy in the form of a tax-break for companies employing first time youth workers. Frankly, at first glance, the accord, as reported in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and City Press appears vague enough to leave some confusion as to how it might result in its proposed creation of 5 million jobs for youth by 2020. No real surprises there.
  • The weeklies were full of scholarly – and not so scholarly – debate about the resignation of Judicial Services Council member Izak Smuts. The debate boils down to whether there is a tension between the quality of judicial appointments and the need to make the judiciary more demographically representative. This is an intrinsically South African debate that cuts across every sector of society and will likely be with us for many years to come – for better or for worse.
  • ANC MP, Ben Turok, explains in the Sunday Times the terms of reference and limitation of the nine member “inquisitorial” panel appointed by parliament to investigate the “ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, potential or otherwise” of Communications Minister Dina Pule with regard to the various allegations that she has allowed her romantic partner to make significant capital out of her ministerial post. That parliament is investigating this matter can only be a good – albeit long overdue – thing.

[1] In order in which it appears in the quote, and supposedly constituting an anti-Vavi, pro-NDP, pro Zuma  faction: the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress

[2] And this group, supposedly constituting the pro-Vavi, anti-NDP faction, anti Zuma faction: National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers Union (plus a host of smaller unions including the Food and Allied Workers union).

(Note for both footnotes 1 and 2 – it is undoubtedly more complicated than this, but we need to start somewhere to attempt to make sense of the chaos.)

[3] Wikipedia (accessed 22/04/2013) explains the use of this term in South African slang as follows: “Amongst South African Jews, the word “kugel” was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favour of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman.”

I am struggling to make up my mind whether there really is a small accumulation of good news, clearly visible against the looming night … or if I am just desperate. Today’s Business Day story by the always interesting Carol Paton looking at Manuel and Sisulu on a stern clean up the public service drive must be positive, surely?

… and several points in my take on the political news in the English language weeklies from last week are postive:

Cabinet reshuffle

The Sunday Times says Jacob Zuma is planning to axe Dina Pule, Minister of Communications and Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Pule’s tenure has “limped from one scandal to another – including the questionable millions paid to her boyfriend from sponsorship money meant for the ICT Indaba last year” – Sunday Times.

So what?

The Department of Communications has failed to unbundle the local loop, missed innumerable opportunities with Telkom, under-resourced the regulator Icasa and generally failed to appoint/settle/keep senior management … and has had three ministers in 3 years. Fixing this is a priority area in the National Development Plan and one of the key ‘bottlenecks’ or ‘obstacles to economic growth’ that need to be removed. So Pule’s removal has (if it actually happens) to be seen as a good thing.

(Interesting – to me – speculation on the side is that Zuma might move Thulas Nxesi (Public Works) to replace Angie Motshekga (Basic Education) and have Motshekga replace Xingwana. This means that Jeremy Cronin (deputy minister in Public Works) might then replace Nxesi. But, as the Sunday Times says “there are concerns in the Zuma camp about whether he (Cronin) can be relied on to protect the president from the repercussions over the controversial R206-milliion Nkandla upgrade.”

Public service

Lindiwe Sisulu (Minister of Public Service and Administration) is quoted in the Sunday times about planned amendments to the Public Service Act setting in place ways of stopping senior administrators benefiting from government contracts. She also promised a “super-director-general’ who would ensure that all heads of department adhere to performances linked reward systems.

So what?

Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi lauded Sisulu plans, saying this would stop the “looting” of public funds by government employees. “We can only say halala (congratulations) to that!” he is quoted in the Sunday Times. I have to agree with Vavi. The biggest political failure that is actually in control of government in South Africa is the poor performance and monitoring systems – and therefore delivery failure and corruption – in government and public sector institutions. Sisulu’s intentions are to be welcomed – and she probably has the steel to follow through. So another plus.

Ramphele wanted DA to be dissolved

The Sunday Times quoted several DA members essentially claiming that Mamphela Ramphele almost joined forces with the DA, but wanted the party to be dissolved first and for her to have an equal share of a new institution. “She wanted a new political party and not to join the DA … she came with nothing but wanted an equal share” said one unnamed source.

So What?

The week has been beset with rumours about the impending announcement by the respected academic and business person Mamphela Ramphele that she is to set up a new opposition party. Speculation reached a climax when it was announced that she had resigned as Chairperson of Goldfieds on Wednesday last week. Ramphele would make an excellent addition to opposition parliamentary politics in South Africa – but the idea that one person, with no party structure or obvious constituency in hand, will change the South African game is hopeful at best. However, on the balance, this is undoubtedly another positive. (That’s three in a row for those who are counting.)

Zimbabwe referendum

Several of the weeklies reported that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday setting March 16 as the date for a referendum on a draft constitution. Most expressed concern that local activists felt that that gave very little time to explain the draft constitution (it took 3 years of bickering to cobble together) to voters and that the draconian Public Order and Security Act would need to be suspended or repealed before campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote could take place. All opposition parties have  called for a referendum ‘Yes’ vote to allow the constitution to be accepted and signed into law without any further changes.

So What?

Zimbabwe’s stability and growth prospects impact on South Africa in a myriad ways, for example in the floods of economic refugees and the shifting size of the export and investment markets in Zimbabwe. An interesting story in the Sunday Times by senior editor Mondli Makhanya argued that Zanu-PF is likely to benefit from opposition disarray and an improving economy. “With the elections just months away, Zanu-PF is smiling and looking forward to strolling to victory. After having brazenly stolen four parliamentary and presidential elections between 2000 and 2008 Zanu-PF will not have to resort to violence and skulduggery this time.” If Makhanya is correct (which he may well be) it is going to stick in a lot of craws that through a combination of looting, patronage networks, repression and the chasing of the urban poor into the arms of the South African informal economy and welfare system, Zanu-PF might remain in power.

New Iran claims hit MTN

The jailing of Iranian born US citizen Mohammad Hajian for supplying “sensitive and potentially dangerous equipment to MTN’s mobile network in Iran” (Mail & Guardian) deepens MTN’s woes in relation to its Iranian operations.

So what?                             

“The conviction is damning for the South African mobile giant, as it provides judicial corroboration that the company used sanctions-busting networks to beef up its technical infrastructure in Iran” (M&G).

State of the Nation Assessment

Most reviews pointed to the key absence of any binding theme in Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.

City Press probably had the best coverage.

  • It (CP) correctly points out that there was a specific “shift on land reform” –  with a move from “willing buyer, willing seller” to a “just and equitable” formulation.  This refers to the establishment of a “valuer-general who intervenes on behalf of the state … who then oversees land valuation …to keep the price … affordable for the state to redress” – CP quotes Gugile Nkwinti (Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform).
  • It argues that the youth wage subsidy has been swept aside and that government, business and labour in negotiations through Nedlac will announce a plan soon whereby “growth industries with young workforces will attract state support to hire the young and jobless … unskilled young people will also be offered a second chance to write their matric exams”. So no across-the-board subsidy … but a directed one, only in selected industries.
  • It picks away at the infrastructure programme and the various roles that will be played by Malusi Gigaba (Minister of Public Enterprises) and Ebrahim Patel (Minister of Economic Development). City Press interviewed the ‘up-and-coming’ Gigaba and asked him if Ebrahim Patel had left him much of a role to play. Gigaba replied: ““Economic Development is responsible for a broader plan. My department is responsible for three big infrastructure projects: the roll out of broadband, electricity infrastructure and logistics like rail. Other departments are responsible for roads, transport and dams.”

So What?

The State of the Nation address is always over-anticipated and usually bitterly lamented as not having been specific or visionary enough. This year, not unexpectedly, Zuma enumerated the successes of government and hyped the plans.  Much of what Zuma and his government will do and say in the next while will be focused on the national election in 2014 – and expectations likely to be disappointed.

Bits and Pieces

  • City Press reports that the department of fisheries, headed by Tina Joemat Pettersson is in “total free fall” – raising serious concerns about government’s ability to conduct research required to determine quotas of ‘allowable catch’ for key species.
  • Sunday Times business section reports that industrial unrest and violence at the Medupi construction site make the “chances of the R91bn power station feeding power into South Africa’s overstretched grid by the end of this year … slim”.
  • Sunday Times reports Harmony Gold made history by making individual workers at its Kusasulethu mine sign a treaty with the company in order to lock individual workers into a contract with the company. “This is quite a revolutionary move … (it) means that individual workers can now be taken to task when stepping over the line” says Peter Major, Cadiz mining analyst. Major argues, according to the report, that if similar agreements had been put in place a year ago when trouble first started brewing on the mines at Impala Platinum, a “Marikana” might have been prevented.

(Added as an afterthought: I realise I haven’t made any kind of conclusion given that the opening paragraph suggests I was going to indicate either that I am more positive than negative or vice versa. Frankly, I can’t make up my mind. Which probably makes me a fairly bog standard South African.)

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.

Various commentators, politicians and analysts have attempted to characterise Mangaung, to define the moment’s essential nature. Below are two takes I found interesting with some words from me on why I found them thus. After that I include a more general summary of what happened with the voting results for the Top Six and the National Executive Committee.

M&G:  will the scandal prone authoritarian traditionalist and the constitutionalist businessman lick the platter clean together?

Nic Dawes – editor of the doughty Mail & Guardian suggested (on December 21 2012) that Zuma has moved the ANC “dangerously away” from the urban and middle classes and is starting to overtly exhibit rural, patriarchal and authoritarian values inimical to the middle classes. He suggests that Cyril Ramaphosa’s election at Mangaung is (ultimately) an attempt to woo urban and middle class voters back to the ANC – with Zuma having secured traditional and rural support. But, asks Dawes, “can the constitutionalist businessperson avoid contamination by association with a scandal prone, authoritarian traditionalist?”

Good question … except that I am starting to realise that Zuma would never have appointed Ramaphosa if he posed a potential threat in any way at any stage no matter how far they (the Zuma camp) are looking into the future. Ramaphosa is in the house … the Nkandla house … it’s too late for decontamination.

Dawes also makes the useful formulation that Motlanthe’s challenge was a principled attempt to “confront the ANC with the enormity of its Jacob Zuma problem”. I think Dawes is right – or at least that the Motlanthe strategists he spoke to had this conception of what they were up to. However the whole Motlanthe endeavour feels much more like the foolish (but strangely attractive) arrogance of Don Quixote tilting at windmills, or, more tragically, this stupid and noble rush onto heavily defended enemy positions:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Read the brilliant, awful, manipulative (in my admittedly limited estimation) Tennyson poem and its glorification of cruel and stupid military and administrative incompetence here – ok, glorification of those acting as a result of such incompetence . (You will see from voting patterns at the end of this post that it was closer to 1000 than 600, but aside from that I thought the Tennyson metaphor held up rather well?)

The nationalists, anti-nonracial, populist versus the … who?

If I was on one of those TV or radio programmes that specialise in asking stupid questions right at the end, and I was asked: which South African political analyst do you rate highest? Then “Steven Friedman” is the answer that would most likely trip off my tongue.

With that disclaimer, I am forced to take issue with an aspect of his characterisation of what happened at Mangaung (published in the Business Day – 27/12/12 – here for that link).

Friedman characterises the Anyone But Zuma or Forces For Change (that is the defeated faction at Mangaung) as “the nationalist group, which wants a bigger black share of business … and whose members use radical-sounding language to pursue that goal.” No quibble from me there.

But then Friedman goes on to characterise the group that opposed ‘the nationalists’, that is the group that was victorious at Mangaung, as “a loose alliance stretching from the left to centrist business people who believe the nationalists threaten the ANC’s commitment to nonracialism and are corrupting the movement because they are too close to the wealthy.”

The implicit injunction, one I believe we should resist, is: choose a better devil.

Break it down (and I paraphrase what I imagine the argument would have to entail – and I am taking this much further than is implicit in Friedman’s article, but his argument leads inevitably to this point):

We support both Jacob Zuma (the patriarchal and authoritarian traditionalist with rigid and ruthless control of the security establishment and the ANC – and we support him despite his family and friends having become fabulously wealthy since his winning to high office) and Cyril Ramaphosa (the billionaire ex-unionist who has effectively used the black economic empowerment imperative to accumulate his wealth and will occupy his office with zero power and purely at the beck and call of the Nkandla Crew).

… because …

… they are a whole lot better than the nationalist, anti-nonracial Julius Malema, Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa, Fikile Mbalula and ANC Youth League?

I think not.

Extract from my summary as of last week

The expected

  1. The leadership and policy results of the African National Congress National Conference was a strongly status quo outcome and a victory for the incumbents (the Zuma camp) and their political and economic policies
  2. The leadership challenge to Zuma (with Kgalema Motlanthe the unwilling champion of that challenge) was routed, as was the policy platform most closely associated with the challengers (the nationalisation of mines). The extent of the victory is clearly and accurately revealed in the leadership election results detailed in Addendum 1.
  3. Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as deputy president has been heralded in much of the financial and popular press as a market-friendly outcome and, in some versions, a salvation of the ANC. It should be pointed out, however, that whatever qualities Ramaphosa possesses (and in my experience he possesses many excellent qualities) these will be exercised as the deputy to an extremely confident and powerful (in party and state terms) president, a president at whose behest Ramaphosa will serve and as a result of whose political influence Ramaphosa was elected. To further dampen any untoward enthusiasm it should be pointed out that Ramaphosa has no base in any constituency within the ANC or within the ruling alliance.
  4. Because the National Conference of the ANC is not the kind of forum in which decisive interventions or radical new directions can be formulated (it takes place over 5 days, has a long and complex agenda, entails many rounds of voting by 4000-plus branch delegates who are often unskilled in policy matters and who are generally organised into large voting blocks by contending factions for leadership) there were no such interventions and (no unexpectedly) new policy directions.
  5. However, the full policy platform of the incumbents, which does entail significant new state intervention in the economy (described and assessed by me in interminable detail elsewhere) was accepted in full (but in a very broad, vague, poorly attended and poorly discussed commission process at the conference.) The ANC is yet to publish the full policy resolution of the conference and I expect it to be a carefully phrased call for more state intervention, but in a language unlikely to alarm financial markets. The details here are important  but I will have to postpone further analysis until the ANC decides it has crafted the resolution carefully enough.

The less expected

  1. Mangaung did only confirm policy and political trends that were already extant – and widely known. However the extent of the dominance of the Zuma camp and the weakness of the challengers took some commentators by surprise – see Addendum 1 for the details of the election results.
  2. The total failure of the political factions aligned to the ANC Youth League to make any impact on the conference policy-making process did come as a surprise to me – I would have thought there would be a rear-guard action around the ‘nationalisation of mines’ call, but none appeared (to me, anyway).
  3. It would have been politic for the Zuma camp to allow some of those who challenged for the top six positions (and their allies) to be represented on the 80 person National Executive Committee. It seems that either the desire to demonstrate total dominance won the day, or the Zuma strategists lost control of the popular mobilisation against the challengers. Either way it leaves a huge internal constituency of the ANC (roughly 25%) without representation at any leadership level within the party – an obviously destabilising outcome. However the Zuma camp is likely to invite some of the excluded individuals back into leadership positions, on terms satisfactory to the victors.

(Post Scrip reminder:  outstanding is the ANC National Conference resolution on policy. The resolution that emerged out of the June Policy Conference took several months to formulate and be published. I do not expect the Mangaung Resolution to take things much further than the resolution from the policy conference. Much of the detail will be dealt with in the New Year and largely in Cabinet and government departments, rather than in party structures.)

Addendum 1

… the results below are culled from various news sources and people who attended the conference (I found the full NEC results at Politicsweb).

A – Voting and results for the top six

(Interesting things to note: Zuma got the least votes of all contested positions and Gwede Mantashe the most – an observation I borrowed from Steven Friedman’s previously discussed Business Day article.)

  • President – Jacob re-elected with 2983 votes to Kgalema Motlanthe’s 991 votes.
  • Deputy President – Cyril Ramaphosa elected with 3018 votes to Mathews Phosa’s 470 and Tokyo Sexwale’s 463.
  • Secretary General – Gwede Mantashe re-elected with 3058 votes to Fikile Mbalula’s 901.
  • Deputy Secretary General – Jessie Duarte elected unopposed.
  • Chairperson – Baleka Mbete re-elected with 3010 votes to Thandi Modise’s 939.
  • Treasurer General – Zweli Mkhize elected with 2988 votes to Paul M Mashatile’s 961.

B – Voting and results for the National Executive Committee

(Note that no challenger to the Zuma camp in the top six election was elected to the National Executive Committee. Note, as well, that the only prominent member of the anti-Zuma camp, Winnie Mandela, just scraped onto the list, having topped the poll for the NEC election at Polokwane in 2007.)

Rank Name Sex Votes
1 Dlamini-Zuma, Nkosazana Clarice F 2921
2 Gigaba, Malusi M 2669
3 Sisulu, Lindiwe F 2658
4 Chabane, Collins M 2585
5 Radebe, Jeff M 2570
6 Pandor, Naledi F 2517
7 Hanekom, Derek M 2497
8 Gordhan, Pravin M 2465
9 Mboweni, Tito M 2463
10 Mthethwa, Nathi M 2450
11 Sisulu, Max Vuyisile M 2442
12 Dlamini, Bathabile Olive F 2423
13 Jordan, Zweledinga Pallo M 2407
14 Nzimande, Blade M 2406
15 Mthembu, Jackson M 2387
16 Ndebele, Joel Sibusiso M 2379
17 Mapisa-Nqakula, Nosiviwe F 2353
18 Motsoaledi, Aaron M 2339
19 Godongwana, Enoch M 2334
20 Kodwa, Zizi M 2306
21 Ebrahim Ebrahim M 2303
22 Dlodlo, Ayanda F 2300
23 Brown, Lynne F 2293
24 Cwele, Siyabonga C M 2245
25 Mokonyane, Nomvula Paula F 2240
26 Mfeketo, Nomaindia F 2228
27 Dlamini, Sidumo Mbongeni M 2213
28 Nxesi, Thulas M 2202
29 Bhengu, Nozabelo Ruth F 2195
30 Nkoana-Mashabane, Maite M 2169
31 Bapela, Obed M 2167
32 Masetlha, Billy Lesedi M 2161
33 Ramatlhodi, Ngoako Abel M 2156
34 Davies, Rob M 2151
35 Motshekga, Angie F 2146
36 Zulu, Lindiwe F 2142
37 Netshitenze, Joel M 2138
38 Nkwinti, Gugile M 2100
39 Joemat-Petterson, Tina F 2076
40 Mabhudafhasi, Rejoice F 2042
41 Shabangu, Susan F 2036
42 Oliphant, Mildred N F 2019
43 van der Merwe, Sue F 1992
44 Capa-Langa, Zoleka Rosemary F 1984
45 Mthembi-Mahanyele, Sankie Dolly F 1930
46 Phaahla, Joe M 1916
47 Skwatsha, Mcebisi M 1888
48 Xasa, Fikile D M 1881
49 Majola, Fikile (Slovo) M 1872
50 Mashamba, Joyce F 1868
51 Tshwete, Pam F 1849
52 Mabe, Sisi F 1823
53 Sizani, Stone M 1803
54 Cele, Bhekokwakhe Hamilton (Bheki) M 1736
55 Magadzi, Dikeledi F 1732
56 Tolashe, Sisisi F 1715
57 Gcabashe, Lungi F 1695
58 Mmemezi, Humphrey M Z M 1679
59 Dlulane, Beauty N F 1674
60 Moloi, Pinky F 1664
61 Mokoto, Pinky F 1644
62 Mashinini, Sam M 1643
63 Zokwana, Senzeni M 1600
64 Mabe, Pule M 1586
65 Yengeni. Tony Sithembiso M 1570
66 Mafu, Nocawe F 1549
67 Mahlobo, David M 1495
68 Mapulane, Philly M 1462
69 Maphatsoe, Kebby M 1456
70 Ntwanambi Nosipho, Dorothy F 1450
71 Semenya, Machwene Rosinah F 1449
72 Segabutla, Miriam F 1403
73 Moloi- Moropa, Joyce C F 1396
74 Molewa, Ednah F 1361
75 Ntombela, Sefora Hixsonia (Sisi) F 1348
76 Manganye, Jane F 1276
77 Letsatsi-Duba, Dipuo F 1057
78 Mtintso, Thenjiwe F 875
79 Mandela, Nomzamo Winfred (Winnie) F 841
80 Didiza, Thoko F 817

I was interviewed on eCNA by the excellent Gareth Edwards yesterday about some matters relating to Mangaung, policy and succession. Catch that here.

… and here is a part of my weekly news summary from Monday morning:

  • Nelson Mandela hospitalised on the eve of Mangaung conference;
  • A leaked KPMG audit conducted for Zuma’s corruption trial indicates serious money from some surprising sources has flowed into the bank accounts and bonds of what Mail & Guardian is calling the “kept politician”;
  • Mangaung is going to be all about economic policy – and ANC leaders are very directly signalling this, so that what is ultimately decided won’t come as too much of a shock… it is best to sit up and take notice now;
  • With the presidential leadership contest all but resolved, the only interesting story is the choice between Motlanthe and Ramaphosa;

Nelson Mandela hospitalised

It only just made the Sunday papers, but: “President Jacob Zuma wishes to advise that former President Nelson Mandela has today, 8 December 2012, been admitted in hospital in Pretoria to undergo tests… As said before, former President Mandela will receive medical attention from time to time which is consistent with his age” – presidential spokesman, Mac Maharaj.

So what?

There is no direct financial market implication of Nelson Mandela’s health (he has long since stopped playing any role in relation to South African politics or policy). However, the financial markets do not list the price of every important thing. At the level of sentiment, it will be impossible to separate the growing unease about many aspects of South African politics (see below) from the failing health of the universally loved founding father of the country.

Secret audit reveals how millions flowed to President Zuma

The Mail & Guardian has placed on its website a secret September 2006 KPMG audit of fund flows into Jacob Zuma’s accounts – it is still there this morning. According to the Mail & Guardian: “The report exposes the president as a ‘kept politician’ – a financial freeloader who accepted money and favours on a routine and increasingly extravagant basis not only from his so-called financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, but also from other benefactors, including Nelson Mandela.” The report was prepared for Zuma’s now cancelled corruption trial, and has thus never been contested in court. Mac Maharaj, spokesman for Mr Zuma, said: “Much of the information that is being headlined seems to have been in the public arena already, from the Schabir Shaik trial. I’m finding it strange that it is coming up now, in this fashion.” Here for M&G report and here for the full 490 page report.

So what?

The report should not derail Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung because, as Maharaj so clearly points out, only a few details within the 400-page document are ‘new’. The ANC elected Zuma as its president at Polokwane in December 2007 at the height of public interest in the details of the recently withdrawn corruption charges against him. These details did not stop the ANC then and are unlikely to influence the Mangaung outcome now. The report does add to the gloom around the apparently out of control cronyism at the heart of the ruling party – leaving us with low levels of confidence that Zuma and his government might be able to address the serious challenges facing the country and the economy.

Economic policy is where Mangaung action is – and most of that will be about resources

You had to be watching carefully, but the top ANC leadership signalled over the weekend that economic policy will shift at Mangaung and, further, that too much attention on the leadership struggle will cause observers to miss what’s important. In the Sunday Times, Gwede Mantashe argued the toss in a story headed “Mangaung is all about the economy”; in the Sunday Independent, Jesse Duarte did the same under a headline “Mangaung will clear all confusion over ANC policy”; and in the Mail & Guardian, Jeff Radebe wrote “Mangaung turns on economics”.

In all of these stories (coordinated in line, length, content and ordering, but presenting themselves as independent pieces by these top ANC leaders), it is argued that the National Development Plan co-ordinated with the New Growth Path is central to what “needs to be done”, that state intervention is the key to job rich and equitable growth, that mineral policy is the central area of change that can be expected at Mangaung, that BEE needs review, that land reform needs radical intervention, and that the ANC must be rebuilt to guide these processes.

City Press looked more closely at the State Involvement in the Mining sector document and pointed out that private sector companies were lobbying hard against the ANC’s intention to add a resource rent tax and to control the price of mineral inputs into the domestic economy – but that they (private sector companies) are unlikely to stop or significantly curtail the ANC’s plans.

So what? As we have stated (perhaps repetitively), the ANC is likely to recommend a rise in taxes in mining (or rather a shift to a resource rent tax regime that will have the same impact) and it (the ANC) is likely to decide on taxes on “unbeneficiated” mineral exports to secure supplies for domestic manufacturing combined with price controls as a stimulus to domestic manufacturing. And this is just in relation to the mineral sector. There are plans for state intervention across several sectors and we believe these will have serious impacts on investment in South Africa – many negative, some positive, but generally different across sectors.

 

Cyril Ramaphosa versus Kgalema Motlanthe

All the newspapers reviewed here (and several online sources) discussed in detail the fact that the Zuma camp has essentially nominated Cyril Ramaphosa for deputy president – making him a dead certainty for president in 2017 (if it plays that way).

So what? The Mangaung presidency issue is settled and the only interesting bit (as far as the electoral process is concerned) is the election of the deputy president.

The Zuma camp is entirely in control of the president/deputy choice, so when we analyse what might happen we have to ask: what is the imperative of the Zuma camp?

Well, that’s an easy one: to ensure that the corruption charges do not return and that the candidate and his continued ownership of his (and his camp’s/family’s) acquired assets remains secure even after Zuma has left office.

So which deputy choice could better ensure this outcome?

Would a President Ramaphosa eventually, following the logic of the Constitution and the law, and impelled by some hope for his own legacy, end up allowing Zuma to be charged for the original corruption charges?

Would Motlanthe?

I think Ramaphosa might, although I would not feel entirely confident that the Zuma camp could not construct a deal that keeps him (Ramaphosa) beholden long enough to ensure the achievement of the imperative stated above.

And Motlanthe?

I don’t think Motlanthe would pursue the corruption charges. He is a man who hates having to take decisions that “divide the house”. Taking down Nkandla is going to require something even more invasive and destructive than taking down Polokwane. I cannot see Motlanthe as the author of such a story.

As things stand, the nominations indicate that Ramaphosa will be elected as Zuma’s deputy. However, a last-minute ‘unity’ compromise might easily allow the Zuma camp to appoint the probably more pliable Motlanthe as deputy.

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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