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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.)

 

 

Herewith some of my latest news updates.

(Just as an aside before I start: I couldn’t help but smile at Richard Poplak’s seriously over-the-top take on the Nkandla report in Daily Maverick this morning: “But Madonsela has certainly nailed Zuma to history’s grimiest post—he will be forever remembered as a thief, a fool, and a Zulu man who was incapable of managing the affairs of his kraal … Jacob Zuma will not escape his fate as one of this country’s more reprehensible figures. And Nkandla will be the crown he wears as he slithers into historical ignominy” … anyone who reads this column probably realises that I am not overly enamoured of Jacob Zuma as our president, but Richard seems to think he is a sort of Vlad the Impaler in leopard skins, which I think is a metaphor too far.

… and while I am making asides did I just hear Gwede Mantashe throw Riah Phiyega under a bus for the fire pool/swimming pool confusion in the Presidential mansion? So she is going to take the fall for Nkandla and Marikana? Shem, as they say on Twitter.)

… anyway:

  • South Africa’s Public Protector ruled that President Jacob Zuma improperly used state funds to upgrade his Nkandla homestead and “failed to act in protection of state resources”.
  • The Public Protector said Mr Zuma’s behaviour amounted to misconduct, but that she couldn’t conclude that the president had misled parliament. He will have to repay some of the funds.
  • The report is negative for the ANC and will cost it votes in the May general election.
  •  Trevor Manuel’s exit from parliament has not been quite as smooth and painless as it first appeared. He will end up as a public critic of the ANC, but not, as yet, in an opposition party.
  • A thickening seam of discontent and activism opposed to growing government intervention in the economy is beginning to reveal itself in the South African financial press.
Zuma deemed guilty of misconduct, but not of misleading parliament

After a 28-month investigation, South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced that President Jacob Zuma and his family had improperly benefited from upgrades to his private Nkandla home worth around ZAR 246mn. “Expenditure on Nkandla was excessive,” Ms Madonsela said and involved the “misappropriation of funds”.

Ms Madonsela said President Zuma knew of the scale of the Nkandla project and “failed to act in protection of state resources”, allowing extensive upgrades beyond security. She explicitly said Mr Zuma’s failure to protect the state’s interests during this saga amounted to “misconduct”, that his failure to protect state resources was a “violation” (of what we are not exactly sure yet) and that his conduct had been inconsistent with the constitution. However, she said that he did not wilfully mislead parliament on the matter. That would have been a criminal offence.

Mr Zuma will now have to respond to these findings to parliament within 14 days and repay some of the misappropriated funds. It doesn’t look like anyone will go to prison or be forced to resign and the actual practicalities of the crisis are not desperately serious for the ANC and President Zuma (or rather not in a new way … they were already quite serious in terms of general respect for the integrity of the President.)

So what?

Ms Madonsela recently described the function of the Public Protector as being to “curb excesses in the exercise of state power and control over state resources”. However, there is some confusion as to the status of her rulings and consequent recommendations to the president for remedial action.

Getting President Zuma to take remedial action against himself for the misuse of public money would seem like something of a non-starter. Already, ex-police chief Bheki Cele, former minister Dina Pule and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – all of whom had adverse findings against them by Ms Madonsela – have found their way onto the ANC’s election list.

Still, this is very much a negative for the African National Congress (ANC) – even more so than the general public expected, though probably not more than the ANC expected. The party knew the report was going to be damaging and has been stiffening its spine for some time, weighing up the costs of attacking Ms Madonsela – an illegal act – or taking it on the chin.

The party will lose votes as a result of this, but we think it was losing votes anyway because of Mr Zuma’s general probity (please see our most recent rough guide overleaf for an idea of how we think support is shaping up). Mr Zuma’s position in the ANC will be weakened (but remember he is strong in the sense that he controls the majority of powerful ANC structures).

Still, the brand value of the ANC is being damaged and this is likely to trigger a self-correcting mechanism. While the changes are still 40-60 against, we think a rescue mission by the party’s ‘old guard’ is now more likely  and that it might successfully mange to shift Mr Zuma aside by around 2016 (a sufficiently strong group just needs to emerge that can cut him a deal with proper guarantees). Obviously the worse the ANC does at the polls, the more the under performance is ascribed to the character and probity of the president … the more likely it is that such a group emerges and coheres to a degree that it is able to offer any enforceable guarantees.

votelates

Trevor Manuel: Concealed weapons

Last week, warm tributes were paid to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel as he took his leave of parliament and it appeared that his sometimes fractious relationship with his party and cabinet colleagues would, for once, be smoothed over. However, in a high-profile Sunday Times interview, he proceeded to warn that “attacks on public bodies, such as the Public Protector and the courts, would weaken these institutions — and that democracy would then battle to survive”. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mathanshe responded sharply to Mr Manuel, saying: “We do not attack the public Protector, but criticise her where we feel we should … Trevor refuses to participate in the activities of the ANC NEC, and if you refuse such, you want to be a free agent.”

So what?

Trevor Manuel has been something of a ‘market darling’ and (according to himself and in his own words) the rand “fell out of bed” when the news broke that he had resigned after Thabo Mbeki had been recalled on 22 September 2008 (The Zuma Years, Richard Calland, August 2013, Zebra Press … read it, it really is quite good!!). There is no love lost between the country’s longest-serving finance minister and architect of the National Development Plan (NDP) and the incumbent leadership of his party.

In a coded farewell speech in parliament, he quoted a seemingly benign passage from a work by historian Tony Judt: “For thirty years, we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.” There were knowing nods all around, but Mr Manuel usefully forgot to mention the title of the book he was quoting, Ill Fares the Land. We expect Mr Manuel to emerge as a critic of the ANC in its present form, although he is unlikely to join any of the existing opposition parties.

Mr Manuel was also interviewed by the Business Times, in which he criticised the short-sighted way in which some trade unions were approaching negotiations, saying it has sparked a “race to the bottom”. He accused National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) General Secretary Irvin Jim, who has constantly attacked the NDP, of “speaking a lot of rubbish”.

Mining companies told to “get off their knees” and stop sucking up to government

Tension in the mining sector under the twin pressures of serious labour instability and increasing government regulatory pressure is causing unusual fractures and pressures, according to Business Day and the Sunday Times, provoking something of a growing campaign of activism in some sectors of the ‘private-sector intelligentsia’, for want of a better term. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the tension (it gets complicated, but stick with it):

  • Eight weeks ago, a respected Chamber of Mines negotiator in the platinum strike (now in its eighth week), Elize Strydom, said Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) mediators in negotiations between employers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) had ”showed an absolute lack of economic acumen” by suggesting companies meet the AMCU’s wage demands “half way”. The mediators had suggested they accept a rise of 25-30% for entry-level miners with basic pay of ZAR 5,700 (the AMCU had demanded ZAR 12,500 a month, a rise of 120%, the companies had offered 8.5%).
  • Ms Strydom (and the Chamber) were immediately attacked by the CCMA and accused of ‘‘white-anting” the mediation process. The CCMA insisted the Chamber either apologise or endorse Ms Strydom’s comments. If the Chamber did endorse Ms Strydom, in the words of the CCMA, it would indicate that the Chamber clearly had “no faith in the institution that is made available by the state and which is accepted by all social partners in other economic sectors”.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce says in his Thick End of the Wedge column this week: “But the mines did nothing. Until, that is, they flung themselves into the arms of the state and savaged Strydom for what she had said … A depressing scene.” Mr Bruce’s comments, bitterly critical of the Chamber and the mining firms, underpin Rob Rose’s column in the Sunday Times, in which he says: “So, when some maverick breaks the conspiracy of silence, it’s no surprise that there’s a hullabaloo of outrage. Spin doctors reel blindly … the gutless Chamber of Mines, and the even more enfeebled legion of platinum CEOs [fail to take a stand]. Now, this is why this issue is so important: the platinum industry is on a precipice. Workers have been on strike since January 23 and the mines have lost billions in revenue and even more in terms of international investment goodwill.”
  • Also in the Sunday Times, a report on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendment bill says “the ANC rushed through controversial changes … that opposition parties feel will create further uncertainty in the mining sector.” The article notes that the new regulations will give government the right to a free stake of up to 20% in any new oil and gas projects, with a right to acquire the rest at an “agreed price”. The story quotes the Democratic Alliance’s James Lorimer as saying that only “cronies, comrades and cousins” would benefit from the bill, which he said would “severely damage” the industry. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said critics were resisting change and transformation, “representing white minority interests” and “wanting to sell the country’s natural resources to the highest foreign bidder”.

So what?

The Chamber of Mines said that “while further work is required on developing the regulations that will help give effect to the MPRDA Amendment Act, the chamber is firmly of the view that through this problem solving process, greater regulatory certainty is emerging for the mining sector.” Obviously, for the Chamber and the companies engaged in negotiating the details of legislation and regulation with government, or engaged in the constitutionally created structures of the labour market, there is no upside in attacking the government or the institutional framework. Equally obviously, key sections of the financial press disagree and are essentially sounding a call to arms and arguing that the growing institutional, regulatory and legislative hostility to the private sector is becoming a crisis.

I am on my way to London to speak to the funds that buy and sell South Africa’s corporate and government bonds i.e. the market that sets the price at which the world is prepared to lend us money.

Daily I become more convinced that the South African political economy is, like quick clay so unstable that when a mass …  is subjected to sufficient stress, the material behavior may transition from that of a particulate material to that of a fluid.” 

The other metaphor I was fiddling with was: all the cards have been thrown in the air and where they will land, nobody knows. (I’m sure there is an elegant song or poem that says something like that, any help there would be appreciated  … that request  is the WordPress equivalent of a  #twoogle - Ed) 

But before I get onto the more lofty questions about the future of life, the universe and everything, I thought I would send you my latest news update – so you can see the gradually building case for my sense that everything has changed. (Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for generously allowing me to republish this – albeit a few days later – here.)

  • A new socialist party appears on the horizon of South African politics … it’s not all good news, but nor is it all bad
  • Murmurs about vote rigging – a leading indicator of political instability 
  • Mining policy meets with surprising levels of push-back from the private sector – in the Business Day at least
  • The future push for the NDP, Hitachi and the ANC, final takes on the budget and why South African telecommunications infrastructure is a very fat golden goose

Numsa confirms it will launch socialist party

The biggest union in the country is effectively in the process of being expelled from the ANC- aligned Cosatu and has announced its intention to establish a party, provisionally to be called the United Front and Movement for Socialism.

“We need a movement for socialism,” general-secretary Irvin Jim told reporters in Johannesburg on Saturday.

He (Jim) continued on to argue that ‘leadership of the national liberation movement as a whole had failed to lead a consistent radical democratic process …’ (Jim paraphrased in numbing detail in SABC Online, Sunday, 2 March 2014, 17h49.)

Numsa has been given seven days (from last Thursday) by the Cosatu NEC to provide reasons why it should not be suspended from the federation. The main issues motivating the suspension are that Numsa has been openly critical of the ANC and the Cosatu leadership and that Numsa has begun competing with, especially, the National Union of Mineworkers, in defiance of Cosatu’ s one-industry-one-union slogan.

So what?

This is unfolding much as predicted. The ANC under Jacob Zuma has decided (or been compelled) to impose discipline on the ruling alliance and force a degree of compliance with the various policies of the ANC and its government. The discipline sought by the ruling group within the ANC is motivated by apparently divergent concerns. On the one hand, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to get the left-wing to stop attacking them (Jacob Zuma and his allies) as corrupt and incompetent. On the other, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to force a degree of support for the National Development Plan (NDP), a policy that the left-wing generally sees as ‘neo-liberal’, anti-poor, anti-working class and conservative in fiscal and monetary terms.

There is a fine tension here between positives and negatives (for the audience NB writes for … mainly fund-managers – Ed). The NDP has been widely welcomed in financial markets. But the corruption associated with the holding of high office in South Africa is becoming something of a crisis for investors of all stripes. It is as inaccurate to think of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla faction as purely the champion of market friendly policy as it is to think that Irvin Jim, Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa are purely the anti-corruption champions of South African politics.

For now, we need to watch for the formation of the socialist party, probably at or before the year-end. Such a party will have a multiplicity of impacts including (but not limited to) undercutting areas of ANC support and forcing the ANC towards finding policies that stimulate economic growth.

(By-the-way I feel it is likely that this new party will have more substance and longevity than the EFF and through a variety of possible mechanisms – including some kind of alliance or even amalgamation – could subsume much of the EFF support and intellectual leadership. But that sort of speculative concoction will follow this post some time over the next few days.)

UDM says beware of vote rigging

The Sunday Independent (2 March) reports that Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement claimed that ‘rogue elements’ in the Independent Electoral Commission will help rig the 7 May election to ‘facilitate the underperforming ANC’:

“The ANC is very concerned (about shedding votes), hence they are pinning their hopes that those rogue elements will run the elections, so rigging will be on the high. There is no doubt about that” – Bantu Holomisa in the Sunday Independent, 2 March 2014.

So what?

The effectiveness, reliability and constitutionality of the Independent Electoral Commission have been important guarantors of aspects of South African democracy. While Holomisa’s allegations are not substantiated (in the aforementioned interview), the fact that such allegations are made can be an important leading indicator of long-term political stability. People and political parties must trust the electoral system if they are to accept the outcome of elections.

(Holomisa’s ‘rogue elements’ probably refers to Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the IEC, who was found last year by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to be guilty of improper conduct and maladministration with regard to the R320 million lease contract for a new head office for the IEC. Tlakula is currently challenging Madonsela’s finding in courts. The IEC and the Public Protector are both institutions established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution with specifies that they are designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic” – Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.)

Mining policy pushback – in the Business Day anyway

Today’s Business Day leads with a story claiming that there are ‘growing rumblings’ from the mining industry about the ‘once empowered, always empowered’ equity provisions in the Mining Charter. The issue in this case is that the government will this year audit the mining companies’ requirement to be at least 26% black owned. Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye Gold, is threatening to go to court to have Sibanye’s empowerment transactions counted in the audit, even if the black beneficiaries have since sold out of their equity.

Mining companies are issued licences pursuant to them meeting certain criteria with regard to Black Economic Empowerment, employment, social, community and labour obligations.

So what?

The series of stories in the Business Day about this matter smacks a little of a campaign by the newspaper – nothing wrong with that but then consume them tentatively. The story is worth reading just to catch the tone and tenor of Neal Froneman – who sounds fed-up to the point of rebellion. Catch it here.

The article quotes Mike Schroder, a portfolio manager of Old Mutual’s gold fund, at a mining conference last year: “One cost that I can’t chart is BEE (black economic empowerment). It doesn’t affect the bottom line or the EPS (earnings per share) or PE (price:earnings) ratios, but every time a BEE deal is done, our pension funds, our provident funds, our unit trusts have to chip in.”

I expect these legislative interventions by the government to strengthen not weaken over time. It is my initial impression that part of the ANC’s answer to the populist incursions onto its territory by the EFF will be to significantly strengthen ‘transformation obligations’ on the private sector – and in return the government will back the private sector against the labour unions. I think these trends will become visible before the end of the year and will be accompanied by greater emphasis on the NDP and by the axing of the ANC’s left-wing elements. Thus, the ANC will attempt to reconfigure South African politics, basing itself more tightly on the emerging property-owning and middle classes than previously, and in a loose alliance with the private sector.  This feeds into my ‘hoping for the best’ view of last week – although we should be cautious, because these complicated trade-offs will as likely end in tears as smiles.

Bits and Pieces

  • Last week, Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, became involved in an unseemly Twitter spat with City Press journalist Carien du Plessis. Actually, it was only Zille doing the spatting and (probably to Zille’s mortification) du Plessis wrote a calm and thoughtful defence of herself in the City Press on Sunday (2 March 2014). In the Twitter exchange, Zille essentially accuses du Plessis of apologising for being white (as far as I can make out). Zille is feisty and combative and there have been several ‘scandals’ around her phraseology and views. She definitely skirts the boundary of what is acceptable in the highly circumscribed and sensitive language of political debate in ‘post-apartheid South Africa’. Will this lose the DA any votes on 7 May? Will it gain the party any? I have no idea.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce’s Monday morning column, ‘The Cutting Edge The Thick Edge of the Wedge: The Political Basis for budgets (if he perchance comes to these lonely shores and find’s that error, I ask his forgiveness in advance) should be required reading for anyone interested in the speculative intersections between South African politics and economics. This morning, he claims that a normally reliable informant, someone “spectacularly close to the Presidency”, told him that Trevor Manuel will stay on in government as a super-minister in the Presidency in Zuma’s next administration, that other ‘left leaning ministers in the economics cluster’ (he probably means Ebrahim Patel in EDD and Rob Davies in DTI) will be shifted aside, that the ANC will hold its vote above 60% on 7 May, that the new administration will make “a big and forceful push after the elections to begin implementing the National Development Plan”, that the EFF and Numsa’s new party will not fly, and that Zuma will secure his safety from prosecution for fraud post his presidency by ensuring that his ex-wife and African Union President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is his successor. (The argument in Peter Bruce’s article being: “She would not put the father of her children in jeopardy – which I don’t necessarily buy, but is interesting anyway). This view concurs quite closely with my view articulated last week that it appears, shorn of its ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions, the ANC will be obliged (and set free) to pursue vigorous economic growth if it is to win the 2019 election.
  • Hitachi has bought back the ANC stake (held by investment company Chancellor House) in Hitachi Power Africa as the shareholding constituted ‘a conflict of interest’. You don’t say. Hitachi Power Africa won R38.5 billion of contracts from Eskom for the Medupi and Kusile power plants. Nuff said.
  • The weekend press had a few ‘final takes’ on the budget. The two I found most interesting were Peter Bruce, in his aforementioned column, writing that it was “a budget of almost unsurpassable banality”, and Numsa’s Irwin Jim saying at his Johannesburg press conference on Saturday that the budget “more than anything else confirms the right-wing shift in the ANC/SACP government”. I won’t say anything.
  • Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko wrote a paid-for ‘open letter’ in the Sunday Times yesterday accusing MTN SA and Vodacom of acting against the public interest (of expanding access to and lowering costs of a ‘modern communications infrastructure’) by opposing lower termination rates. Maseko claims that Telkom had subsidised Vodacom and MTM to the tune of R50bn over two decades. Professor Alison Gillwald of Research ICT Africa was quoted in today’s Business Day (by the excellent Carol Paton) as saying “Telkom is right. MTN and Vodacom had an extraordinary termination rate asymmetry with Telkom over 20 years.” She went on to say that, during the period of asymmetry, the private companies rolled out “enormous infrastructure that has improved access.” Finally, she says: “While one wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, she was a very fat goose”  … which I thought was a good enough turn of phrase to deserve republication anywhere.

* That is deliberately missing an apostrophe – the ‘*’ makes you think it might be there and you are forced back and forward between the noun and verb meaning. (Get a life! – Ed.)

The Numsa exit from the alliance is a natural consequence of what appears to me to be a ‘Maggie Thatcher moment’ in South African politics.

(This is a loose characterisation and it purely means that I believe there is evidence that government is taking a much harder line with the union movement and is backing the private sector to do the same. As you will see in the final slide I do not think it is strictly accurate to define this moment as Thatcherite, but I do believe the metaphor has some value i.e. that Cosatu is collapsing because the ANC under Zuma is forcing it to come into line.)

Below is an extract from a piece of my weekly news commentary published just after SONA 2014 … and below that are three slides from a presentation I delivered in November last year – thanks to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities, as always, for allowing me to republish here.

Amplats to sue Amcu for strike related damages – various news reports (17/02/2014)

Several news outlets reported on Sunday that Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) will sue the Association of Mining and Construction Union for R591m. “The company seeks payment of damages caused by Amcu’s failures to adhere to the law, damage to property, increased costs to pay protection services staff overtime, and loss of production because non-striking workers were prevented from working” – Amplats statement quoted in the Sunday Times 16/02/2014.

So what?

I think a combination of factors are making it probable that the major platinum companies will use this strike to attempt to reset the balance of power between the companies and labour in the sector. The legal action by Amplats is probably part of such a generally agreed strategy by companies in the sector.

My reasoning includes the following supporting conjectures:

  • Management will not want to again make the mistakes in made in 2012. The damage suffered by the platinum companies during that year – when unions appeared to push their advantage with little resistance or any coherent counterstrategy from management – led, in part, to the state clumsily stepping in, with Marikana the centrepiece of the gruesome consequences.
  • (According to various media, for example the Business Day) the platinum market is in oversupply, the companies are cash flush and the rand is weak – an ideal combination of conditions that would assist the companies ‘digging in’ and waiting for Amcu to break.
  •  It is increasingly clear that the union resources are stretched to the limit and strikers are carrying high levels of unsecured debt which makes both strikers and their union unable to last more than one payday

I am suggesting that the companies have tacit government support in taking a hard line with the strike. Amcu is, after all, the union that displaced key ANC ally Num and any strategy to break Amcu would probably be tacitly supported by the ruling party (although this is not something the ANC could admit to.)

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis put it best when he said Amplats’s action would restore the balance of power and send out a message that unreasonable pay demands and irresponsible union action would not be tolerated. He summarised Amplats’ intention as to “bankrupt Amcu and get rid of this militant and irresponsible union once and for all; or to send out a strong message to Amcu and all other trade unions that Amplats has had enough of union bullying; or to merely place Amcu under huge pressure to call off the strike and accept the final offer made by the companies.”

What is clear to me, is Amplats would only be behaving in the vigorous and hard-line manner if it has been given the tacit support of government. Zuma’s SONA2014 statement that “We cannot have industrial conflict that destroys the economy” is the visible spine of a deep seam of just such support.

… and then as part of the background that leads me to those conclusions, 3 slides from a presentation entitled “The Curate’s Egg” from November last year:

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

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

The Public Protector clashes with Zuma’s security chiefs

Thuli

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

RadebeCwelebetter

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

Elecguestimates

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

 

Cyril Ramaphosa on a ‘social compact’

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

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

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

Earlier, he says:

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

So what?

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

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

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

 

Bits and Pieces

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

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.

Imagine you are the producer of a major and successful television soap-opera.

Gradually, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, market research begins to indicate your share of the prime-time television audience is diminishing – and, further, that the declines are accelerating.

I suspect what you do is try to work out whether the viewers are being tempted away by a better soap, whether the quality of your show is slipping and/or whether your product is losing its appeal because the ‘demographic’ that follows your production is shrinking … or some combination of those.

Perhaps you try to adapt your trashy product to follow the shifting demographic; change the time-slot, perhaps kill off the older actors … have the Elizabethan extended family that has been the central theme be infiltrated by shape-shifting aliens who teleport the stately manor out of the English countryside and into a future post-apocalyptic New York … change the name to Downtown Abyss? Ok, maybe not.

Or you do a serious quality overhaul of your existing production, get better writers and introduce more popular and skilled actors, win back the defecting viewers … stick to your knitting, trust the product … and all those other management-speak exhortations.

I think the ANC is facing a crisis similar to that faced by the producers of this imaginary soap-opera. I suspect that the ANC, Agang and the DA do market research that is indicating and projecting significant voter swings away from the ANC . But I have nothing firmly in my hands other than rumours, leaks and hints.

So forgive me if I float an untested (and untestable at this time) hypothesis; one we are all going to hear bruted about soon: that it is ‘true’ that on current trends the ANC will get less than 59 percent of the vote next year but more than 52 percent, and further, that the ANC will receive less than 50 percent of the vote in 2019 (thumbsuck alerts all round).

The assumption is untestable (by me) because I don’t have the bespoke polling data and (by anybody else, in my opinion) because such data do not take adequately into account the myriad subjective and objective factors that might  impact on the trend.

But among the reasons I take seriously the possibility that this is, in fact, the trend is, for example, the rapid growth of Amcu and the concomitant shrinking of  Num. Another is this public domain ranking of Zuma’s approval rating amongst urban Africans by TNS Research published in the Sunday Times on 12/03/13:

%

Apr

‘09

Jun

‘09

Sep

‘09

Nov

‘09

Feb

‘10

May

‘10

Sep

‘10

Nov

‘10

Feb

‘11

Mar

‘11

Sep

‘11

O/N

‘11

Feb

‘12

Apr

‘12

Aug

‘12

Feb

‘13

Approve

52

57

53

58

43

51

42

49

49

48

45

55

55

46

48

41

Disapprove

29

13

19

23

41

33

44

34

35

38

41

38

35

46

44

51

Don’t know

19

31

28

12

17

16

15

17

16

14

14

14

10

8

8

9

Net positives

+23

+24

+34

+35

+2

+18

+2

+18

+2

+15

+14

+1

+20

0

+4

-10

 

… and updated by TNS this Monday (1/7/13) indicating a slight improvement in favour of Zuma (read from the top: 42, 50, 9 and -8). The point is there is a significant drop in Zuma’s approval ratings and concomitant rise in his disapproval ratings from February last year. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that this applies to the ANC (although, again, and at the risk of being pedantic, there is no established corollary between Zuma’s ratings and the ANC’s … but as a personal aside, I would imagine he must represent a specific liability.)

When I think of Mandela’s ill health and what I see as signs of how destabilising for the ANC his passing be may be (although the opposite could also be true), when I consider the anti-Zuma noises coming from Winnie Mandela and the frisson of mischievous excitement around Julius Malema’s proposed Economic Freedom Fighters … and when I put a whole mess of hints, trends, rumours and suppositions together with other metaphorical canaries that I use and which are dying around me like flies, I feel confident, for the first time since 1994, to at least consider how things might be when and if the ANC is clinging to an electoral majority, or perhaps even losing one.

As I begun to consider this (and helped along by a good and irritatingly insistent friend) I discovered that I still, subconsciously, conduct my professional duties under the burden of a normative (as in relating to an ‘ideal standard or model’)  assumption that has remained unchanged and largely unexamined since about 1994.

This normative assumption goes, roughly, something like this:

South African society is shaped by irresolvable contradictions. Most obviously between the poor, largely African, majority and the propertied white minority. Only an African National Congress, held comfortably in power by the trust and momentum established by its role and identity as leader of the liberation struggle, and by its clearly ‘African-led’ character, could possibly negotiate the perilous path between the imperative to deliver radical redress to the African majority and the absolute requirements to operate within the disciplines of global capital markets and to keep whites engaged and invested.

There are so many assumptions – and slippery phrases – in that statement, that I am not sure where to begin.

But briefly (in as far as that is possible):

Firstly I am implicitly using a (somewhat antiquated) theoretical model of society that is based on the idea that the competition between  groups with closely aligned economic interests acts as some kind of driver that interacts with and shapes other features of society, including the state and formal party political contests. This is a (hopefully sophisticated) version of the base/superstructure model of Marxist theory. As a rough, working model, I will continue to employ this system in political analysis – even if it is purely as a way of organising my thoughts. It is an elaboration of the injunction to follow the money which I consistently find the most useful hand-axe in the tool kit I use to help me work out, to my own satisfaction if no-one else’s, what the hell is going on.

Secondly, I am weighting the racial divide, its historical features, its ideological characteristics, the materiality of its ongoing consequences – including the radical disparity in wealth and income – more heavily than any other feature of South African society. ‘Politics’ occurs around such contradictions and our politics remains overdetermined by this structural feature. I think this remains true – but less true than it was 18 years ago. Primarily because class development, including the development of a black wealthy/property-owning class, a black middle-class and a sophisticated and slightly wealthier working class (driven by the changing character and function of labour processes and the relative growth of the services sector) dilutes the central contradiction and adds competing fissures.

Thirdly, I continue to assume it is imperative to keep whites “on board”… and that we have to keep within the discipline of global capital markets. I am also assuming (or perhaps estimating that on balance) the ANC still sees these as fundamental constraints. Those are brave (wild?) assumptions, I know, but I do not have all night. So moving swiftly along …

Finally, the aspect of my normative assumption about which I am most uncertain is the central one. Who says the ANC cannot fall below 50 percent, that an alliance of opposition parties will not get above 50 percent? And that if both those bridges are crossed we are into the game mode where  “(o)nly (the) African National Congress  … could possibly negotiate the perilous path”. Which means?

I  appear to be saying that in the event that those barriers are crossed we will fail to negotiate that path.

That we collapse in a heap? That the ANC morphs into Zanu-PF – but with even scarier tribalist and repressive features – to recapture the political initiative? That the ANC embarks on an ever more expansive looting of private and public assets to feed a patronage system that comes to replace all other mechanism that establish stability, but a system that is absolutely limited by the availability of such lootable assets? Or perhaps that our future will look something like what (might be) happening in Cairo tonight? … I will get to that as soon as I hit “publish”.

If a democratic election goes against the ANC why am I so uncertain that the party or party’s that the same election goes in favour of will be unable to govern?

I suspect I actually believe that without the ANC in a comfortable majority that things fall apart, that the centre cannot hold, that

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed*

Thus, this is little more that my personal failure to imagine a future significantly different from the present, yes?

It appears that I am constrained by my own habits of thought and prejudices. Now there’s a big surprise.

So, back to the soap opera.

If the ANC is slipping in the ratings, it can chase the shifting demographic by attempting to spread its skirts ever more widely – although I think it is already beyond the limits of the possible with that indecorous exercise.

… or it can do the political equivalent of the narrative device of having space aliens infiltrate the family (hmm, that might have happened already – ed).  I am not sure what a radical discontinuity in the ANC’s brand might look like – I think it could go one of two general directions, but I would imagine that the ANC strategists defining ‘the message’ for the upcoming elections must envy the clean simplicity of the Economic Freedom Fighters emerging platform.

… or the ANC could improve its character and performance by sticking to its knitting: cleaning up its leadership and improving its governance performance and winning back the trust of its purportedly defecting support. My impression is the ANC is going in precisely the opposite direction, but who’s to say they wont turn it around in response to a mild shock in 2014?

I  do not hold to the popular notion that “anything is possible”, but I am prepared to accept that a lot more things will come to pass than I have been able to imagine.

* As always, the best poetic accompaniment to fretting about the future of our politics is William Butler YeatsThe Second Coming … catch the incomparable poem here.

Preface 

I wrote what follows in July 1990 immediately after returning from a two week trip to Moscow. I was part of a group with the now sadly departed Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa). The original was published in Democracy In Action, the institute’s monthly newsletter. I had looked for a copy for years and Paul Graham the last executive director of  Idasa, and a man for whom I have the highest regard, went to considerable trouble to find the article for me as he was closing up shop. I am republishing it here exactly as it originally appeared, although I have to sit on my hands to stop myself stripping out much of the sentiment and youthful taking-of-oneself-too-seriously – and thereby cutting two thirds of the length. (I would also quite like not to admit to some of the things I once believed which I admit to in the article … and I would love to add a bit of irony … but it is all too late for that now.)

Why am I bothering – I am not unaware that this was not exactly seminal?  No special reason, except my desire that it form ‘part of the record’. I wanted it “out there” in the electronic universe to remind myself of the precise moment I stopped being a confused socialist and carried on with being just confused, an altogether less satisfying state than I had experienced previously. It was  bitter-sweet for me, this moment, and I have never entirely resolved the conflicted feelings that it evokes in me. I don’t promise that what follows will be madly interesting to anyone but myself and perhaps some others directly involved in the events I describe. So, if for no other reasons than the much vaunted record, complete and unexpurgated, here is:

Ten days that shook my world

Standing on the Leningradsky Prospect – the “straight way” to Leningrad – just outside Moscow I was filled with an unhappy mixture of dismay and despair.

I had reached an unbearably poignant shrine. In heroic proportions and cut deep into huge blocks of concrete was the visage of the Soviet version of the Unknown Soldier. The young interpreter translated the script alongside that  haunting face in hushed tones. “It says that, ‘the defenders of Moscow defend here forever’. Here they fought an important battle in the Great Patriotic War. Many people died. But for us this is very sad.”

Twenty million Soviet citizens died in that war. more than all the other deaths put together. The German army failed to take Moscow or Leningrad and eventually broke its back on a bitterly defended Stalingrad and the even more bitter Soviet winter.

Standing at that memorial I felt dismay at the enormity of suffering the people of this country had experienced in the last 100 years. I felt despair because by that stage of the trip I already sensed than another tragedy was befalling this oft punished country.

How do  you record a credible impression of a country with 290  million inhabitant and more mutually unintelligible languages than anywhere else in the world after a brief two weeks spent in one city – albeit Moscow?

The answer is you probably can’t.

It was sunny mid-June and I was part of an Idasa delegation of “young researchers” on a fact-finding mission hosted by a group called the Committee of Youth Organisations. For me personally the visit was of particular importance.

The Soviet Union was the land of milk and honey for many of us who grew up politically in the student movement in the late 70s and early 80s. This was the flagship of a growing fleet that would rid our world of the uncaring and greedy imperative of profiteering capitalism and the misery it had brought our country.

We could quote chapter and verse of statistics that demonstrated the availability of basic goods and services to all Soviet people. We could parade the achievements of Eastern bloc socialism – in the production of iron and steel, in the eradication of illiteracy, in culture, the arts and in sports.

In response to perestroika and glasnost we had all reformulated our ideas and I wanted to discover two things: the soul of the Soviet people and  whether the red flag was still flying. We were not able to answer any of these questions conclusively and were left with a series of often unconnected impressions.

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

We sat in a meeting with the editor of the Moscow Communist Youth Organisation (Komsomol) daily newspaper. The paper has a subscriber list of one and a half million and is delivered daily. This man was a political appointee yet he harangued us for over an hour about the evils and absolute unworkability of socialism.

We didn’t understand. Here was a powerful and influential communist, picking up a glass on the table and asking, “Who does this belong to? To the state, or the people, or some vague body? I don’t care about this glass,” and he made as if to throw it out of the window.

In an intense and growing fury he took a Parker pen from the inside pocket of his coat. “This is my pen! If this man (pointing at his second in command) breaks this pen, I will beat him,” he said, shaking his fist angrily.

Reaching some kind of climax, the editor rose to his feet and shouted pointing out of the window at the inevitable queue at a shop across the road: “Those people are queuing for children’s slippers. This is not how people should live! This is not even how animals should live!”

The sentiments behind these ragings were expressed by everyone we met – more cautiously only by the most senior members of the Communist Party.

The economy has clearly failed to meet the requirements of the population and the list of reasons they give reads like a tirade from the New Right.

Here is a selection of rough quotes as I jotted them down in my notebook or remember them now:

“The authoritarian, bureaucratic, administrative command system has created impossibly skewed production priorities.”

“Why work hard, or with any care and attention to detail if you are going to get your 300 roubles a month no matter what and anyway, you are not going to be able to buy anything with it? We have created workers who don’t know how to work.”

“Goods are expensive and if they are made here they are of inferior quality. It is very difficult to get imported goods and usually these are impossibly expensive.”

“I have lived here all my life. Now it is worse than anyone can remember. There are just no goods in the shops and for the first time we are really worried about hunger.”

Almost without exception the people we spoke to blamed socialism for their ills. When those of us with deep philosophical and political roots in the South African socialist movement protested that it wasn’t socialism per se that was the problem, but rather the errors committed in the building of the society and economy of the Soviet Union specifically, we were laughed out of court.

“It is the ideas themselves. 1917 was a disaster for us. We need the market economy,” was the refrain we heard time and again.

There seems no doubt that there is a developing  consensus amongst the intelligentsia in Moscow at any rate, that the “free market” is the panacea to many of their ills. It would have been impossible, and extremely presumptuous of us to lecture them on the evils of rampant capitalism. They want it and they want it now.

When Germany and Japan start buying up state enterprises for a pittance and fill the shops with goods that only a few can afford; when unemployment and lack of housing becomes a problem for the previously protected underclass and when access to a whole lot of goods ans services becomes determined by income, they may change their minds, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

The citizens of Moscow (a relatively wealthy city) are struggling, increasingly despairingly, to survive. At first I was tempted to argue that they are better off than the unemployed in the First World, but it just doesn’t appear to be true, especially as far as countries with social welfare systems are concerned.

The problem, of course, is that the capitalism that will be built in the Soviet Union will be a mean and half-starved animal.

The Soviet people look at the highly developed capitalist economies of the West for a vision of their own future. The truth is that they can expect only the vicious and exploitative versions of the system that exist on the periphery in the Third World.  The creation of that system is going to be extremely painful.

The other element of the unfolding drama in the Soviet Union is the collapse of the political entity itself.

The republics are finally starting to be flung off the edges of the vortex of rapid political change. Long repressed nationalism, often highly chauvinistic, is emerging everywhere and Gorbachev is finding it almost impossible to hold the show on the road.

The dark spectre of the Soviet Union’s collapse into 15 disgruntled, warring, potentially economically unviable Third World states with terrifying military resources at their disposal is starting to haunt the wold.

And what about the Russian people?

We were all astounded at the depth of education and cultural and philosophical literacy in the wide cross-section of people we met. A deep abhorrence of war and commitment to peaceful change was the characteristic feature. In response to the question “what do you want, or see as an alternative?”, the most common phrase was, “respect for universal human values.”.

We asked many young people if they were proud of any of their national achievements – the beautiful, cheap and efficient Moscow underground, the low price and ready availability of books and records and the level of literacy and education.

We were told (variously): “The Soviet Union is not a country, we have no national achievements”; “how can we be proud if it takes all our effort and time just to buy a loaf of bread in a shop”.

Almost every young person we met had a burning desire to leave the country. The most popular movie on the circuit is a “documentary” comparison of life in the Soviet Union versus life in the West.

Apparently this films looks at the worst of Soviet life compared to the best in the West. It sounds like the worst kind of anti-communist, American ultra-right chauvinism -  except it was made by a Soviet film producer. What is more, the public swallow every last detail in an orgy of masochistic self-hatred.

Media freedom

One thing we found interesting and encouraging was freedom and vibrancy of the media.

Organised political opposition to the Communist Party is weak (outside of the national movements in the republics) and many of the new parties have no real experience at mobilising the population. However, the press and television are filled with debate and exploration of new ideas and harsh examinations of social problems ranging from alcoholism through to child abuse.

By the end of the 10 days, the six of us were punch-drunk and exhausted. We spoke together for hours trying, unsuccessfully, to draw out the essence of the experience. We all had the sense of being in an important place at an important time. This was the exact point where a grand enterprise had come off the rails.

The resounding shock waves of that catastrophe have changed the whole world, not least of all our own country. We struggled with the enormity of it and the sense of hopelessness we were left with.

As the last day of the visit dawned, I spoke to a wise and gentle man about my confusion and disappointment. He said: “Yes, this is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but you are wrong to say our people are hopeless or despairing. They have spirit and humanity. We will win through in some way.”

(I was accompanied on that trip by Ian Liebenberg, Hermien Kotze, Zorah Ebrahim, Khehla Shubane and Mark Swilling – and I wish them well wherever they may be.)

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.

By the way “deep blue” in the headline was not meant to be a riff on IBM’s chess playing supercomputer.

Rereading Part 1  I can see how someone might accuse me of being a little too certain about the shape of the future.  I am not running “deep blue” regressions and algorithms, modelling South Africa and the world, generating predictions x of y % accuracy with z % error margins … South … Africa … will … be … peachy … in …2021 … bidledeebidledee beep.

I have no real idea of what is going to happen in the future – and only the bare bones of an idea of the internal processes I go through to develop the views I advance here.

From time to time I investigate how we predict outcomes, and how we asses risks. I am interested in how our evolved systems (honed against sabre-toothed tigers and uncertain rainfall patterns, for example) apply in the kind of technology driven mega-societies we now inhabit – or, specifically, don’t apply i.e. that our ‘instinctive systems’ need to be suppressed or countermanded if we hope to get it right in certain situations. But that is not what I am doing in these quick pre-Mangaung notes.

The “deep blue” of the headline was actually a reference to being bleak, sad, cold and lonely.

Which leads me to:

Who are the demagogic populist, proto-fascists* now?

DancingANC

The ANC will (initially) combat the threat of losing support by becoming more ‘demagogic populist’, rural conservative and based in the lumpen classes – basically, by drifting to the right

In December 2010 I wrote an article in GQ Magazine under the headline: “Can you hear the drums?” with a concluding paragraph that read:

In the year 2010, anger and resentment … bubbled over  … The winners still have their stuff, but they are clutching it more tightly to their chests, and for the first time in 16 years they are straining for the hint, a sound or a smell, of what might be coming for them out of the night.

Read the whole story here.

Two ‘crises’ (or warnings) that occured this year are the equivalent of the scary sound of drums in the night for the incumbent ANC elite. The first warning is Marikana and the second, linked, warning is the traction Julius Malema’s manipulative populism was able to achieve amongst some sections of the disenfranchised youth.

I made some of these links in my coverage of Marikana here.

I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional Leaders Courts Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here  and here.)

Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state),  the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’ (as I argued in Part 1).

This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these.

Initially the ANC might get even higher turnout at its rallies (especially with free food and t-shirts and sexy young people dancing between the rabble-rousing and the singing of Umshini wami). But eventually the class and demographic changes of the society impact upon the party – reformat it, split it, renew it … change the political ecology in which it moves and feeds.

You will see from my next post that I do not only think the ANC is a useless bubble of foul smelling gas buffeted on the sea of history. The ANC, in my analysis, has become a most significant and material influence for and against my upbeat scenario … a sort of deranged midwife at the happy birth.

* The term “demagogic populists, proto-fascist” is from various SACP documents and was code for Julius Malema (and, I suspect, in slightly early versions, a code for Tokyo Sexwale). This is what the SACP had to say about it:

The “new tendency”

It was the SACP at the 2009 Special National Congress that first identified clearly the ideological and underlying class character of what we called the “new tendency”. We described it as a populist, bourgeois nationalist ideological tendency, with deeply worrying demagogic, proto-fascist features. It was the SACP that pointed out the connections between the public face and pseudo-militant rhetoric of this tendency and its behind-the-scenes class backing. It was a tendency funded and resourced by narrow BEE elements still involved in a rabid primitive accumulation process, based on a parasitic access to state power. It was a bourgeois nationalist tendency that sought to mobilize a populist mass base, particularly amongst a disaffected youth, to act as the shock troops to advance personal accumulation agendas.

The SACP must feel free to pat itself on the back, but the reality is that party took on the straw man of  Kebble/Malema/Sexwale and backed – to the hilt – the real demagogic, proto-fascist tendency – the one with real power … and the one with real patronage to dispense. (That last bit explaining why this SACP has backed the Nkandla Crew)

That SACP quote is from here. For my explanation of how that all fits together with the nationalisation of mines call and host of other issues here (again) .

Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza provides the lead headline in today’s Business Day as “warning of a rogue state future for SA”.

So imagine if you could, for a moment, that you are playing a sports game.

As in a dream, you suddenly realise you don’t know the rules; you don’t know how to score, who’s on your side or what the parameters of the field are.

This could be a comical situation – and I am sure I remember boys from my school days whose mystification on the rugby, cricket or hockey fields would bring a gentle smile to our (his team mates’) faces.

But this is also the stuff of nightmares: an inscrutable world where what happens happens for reasons entirely mysterious, where people are motivated by incomprehensible impulses and the dread of the unknown builds and builds.

I am sure I am not alone in having worked in a dysfunctional institution?

I mean something worse than a j0b in which you are poorly paid and have a psychopath for a boss (entry level experience requirements for human adulthood as far as I can make out).

A dysfunctional institution is one in which the sum total of what the organisation achieves appears to be at-odds with its explicit mission.

I am suggesting something worse than an organisation that doesn’t achieve what it is designed to achieve. I am suggesting that in some instances a deeply dysfunctional organisation can, when everything is aggregated, achieve the very opposite to its stated purpose is.

Which brings me to the institutions of the South African state.

I am occasionally lucky enough to get hold of some excellent economic commentary written by Sanlam Group Economist Jac Laubscher and published on that company’s website. In his most recent contribution (which appears here) he takes some concepts from Why Nations Fail: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson (book I haven’t yet read, but will do so on the back of Jac’s comments) and hints at how they might be applicable to South Africa.

According to Laubscher, Acemoglu and Robinson suggest that the dominance of “inclusive institutions”  over “extractive institutions” is the difference between success or failure of nations.

Inclusive institutions harness and unleash human creativity and incentivise citizens and workers to give of their best.

As Jac Laubscher summarises:

Inclusive institutions are characterised by guaranteed property rights (vital for investment and productivity growth), an impartial legal system that upholds contracts, the effective provision of public services to create a level playing field, space to create new businesses, and the freedom to choose one’s career.

“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:

… are aimed at extracting income and wealth from one section of society to the benefit of another section of society, usually the elite. In fact, extractive political institutions are the means by which the elite enrich themselves and consolidate their political dominance.

It is a fairly simple matter to demonstrate that to some degree key state and semi-state institutions and processes in South Africa have become mechanisms for extracting wealth by the politically connected elite.

But a key qualifier here is “to some degree”. I don’t think the state has yet, unambiguously, become an extractive tool of the political elite. But it is obvious that at least part of the political elite is struggling mightily to shape our institutions to and for that purpose.

Yesterday I listened to Trevor Manuel deliver the National Development Plan to a joint sitting of parliament. At the same time the the Constitutional Court was hearing an application by the Treasury and Sanral to set aside the April interim interdict granted by North Gauteng High Court halting e-tolling and mandating a full review of the system.

My views on both Trevor Manuel and e-tolling are ambiguous – they both have their good and bad points – but I appreciate the subtlety and complexity of what the National Planning Commission has tried to achieve … and I celebrate the fact that we have a Constitutional Court we can trust with decisions like the one it was busy with yesterday*.

But the institutions of our society are not yet the corridors of the predators’ labyrinth – but we’d be foolish to ignore the signs.

* The Concourt matter is important for a number of reasons, but the aspect that interests me professionally, is part of what is happening is driven by the fact that the Treasury feels the need to defend its credibility as a borrower. I suspect that the rating agencies are happy that the Treasury is fighting this matter but are anxious that they might lose. The lender wants to be certain that the entity to whom it lends is properly able to make the agreement to pay the money back. The Treasury is ultimately arguing that the North Gauteng High Court ruling means no lender to the South African government can be sure that the courts might not declare, in effect, that government was legally incompetent to make the decision in the first place – significantly increasing default risk.

Remember kaleidoscopes?

Basically a tube that you held up towards a light and peered through as if it was a telescope?

But unlike kid’s telescopes –  which, like kid’s microscopes, were blurry and disappointing and stupid – the kaleidoscope was a device of astonishing power and beauty.

The point for my six-year-old self who received his first kaleidoscope for a birthday, probably, was the power that little tube put in my hands.

The simple expedient of  twisting one end caused visions of astonishing, luminous, grandeur to pour out the other.

I can still feel that tingling as if I was balanced on a precipice, reaching out to shape a whole universe; causing tectonic shifts in the intrinsic structure of reality … okay, maybe not that last bit … but you get the point.

Such power … and I had absolutely no idea how it worked.

My “device of power and beauty” was a semi-rigid cardboard tube with loose coloured translucent beads or pebbles in the end and two mirrors running lengthways up the inside, duplicating images of the transparent junk that tumbled as the tube was rotated.

My first kaleidoscope wilted in my sweaty, meglomeniacal hands a few hours after I had torn it from its pretty wrapping – and I cut myself on a broken piece of mirror as I desperately pounded it to make it continue producing those wondrous images.

Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.

I am slightly more worried today than I was when I wrote the piece below (July 2) just after the conference.

That is partly because I have thought further about some of the issues and partly because the consensus points within the ANC seems to be slippery – and therefore uncertainty is rising.

In short my worry is that the ANC is approaching more vigorous economic intervention with the enthusiasm and growing expectations of my six-year-old self after he first looked through his pretty new cardboard tube.

I think the likelihood of this all ending in tears in increasing exponentially – and the reasons are not very different from those that caused the ruin of my first kaleidoscope and my cut finger.

I will pursue this theme (the threats involved with increasingly desperate state interventions – especially those that worsen the problems they promise to fix) in future posts, but first my initial take on the conference; written just after having read the particularly awful English language Sunday newspapers of July 1:

Much ado – and confusion – about the ANC policy conference

The teams of journalists from the political desks at the Mail & Guardian, the City Press, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent could have been covering different conferences given the divergence of their understanding of what went down at Gallagher Estates in the Midrand from Tuesday to Friday last week.

This is my first attempt at a distillation of the main points – partly of the coverage, partly of what was supposedly being covered:

  • Debates about policy and the struggle over who will be elected to the top positions in the ANC at the National Conference in December became blurred, to the detriment of both.
  • The “Second Transition” concept became associated with Jacob Zuma (even though it was penned by his factional enemy, Tony Yengeni) and its rejection by most commissions at the conference was interpreted as a set-back to Zuma’s re-election campaign.
  • The power struggle obscured the fact that there was general consensus that transformation is “stuck” and radical and urgent action to hurry the process along needs to be taken if the ANC is to keep the trust and support of its majority poor and black constituency.
  • The report-back to plenary of the key breakaway commission on mining became the most blurred moment, when Enoch Godongwana presented a summary of the views on the state’s proposed involvement in the mining sector – with pro-Zuma provinces KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State tending to go with the SIMS compromise and the other six provinces tending to support the ANC Youth League in a strengthened nationalisation position.
  • When consensus is finally reached, it is likely to include an even stronger role for the state-owned mining company – perhaps giving it the right to take significant stakes in all future mining licenses issued. Absolute taxation levels might be an area of compromise between the state and the mining sector in negotiations about this matter in the final lead-up to Mangaung where policy will be formally decided.
  • There was broad consensus that the state could and should force the sale of farmland for redistribution purposes and that an ombudsman be appointed to determine ‘a fair price’ – to prevent the process being frozen by white farmers holding out for better terms. It is not clear whether this would require a constitutional amendment.
  • There was general consensus that the Media Appeals Tribunal is no longer necessary, that the number of provinces needs to be reduced, that the proposed Traditional Courts Bill is reactionary and against the constitutionally guaranteed rights of women and children in rural areas, and that the youth wage subsidy (as a tax break to employers) had to be sweetened, or replaced, with a grant directly to young job seekers.
  • The push for “organisational renewal” will require a number of changes: a probation period of 6 months for new members, a 10 year membership requirement before such members can be elected to the NEC, a reduction of the size of the NEC from 80 to 60 members and a downgrading of the status of the Leagues (women, veterans and youth) so they more directly serve the interests of the mother body.

So if this was a soccer tournament, what is the score?

The City Press led with “Tide Turns Against Zuma”, but frankly I think this is more about that newspaper’s preferences than anything else. The ideological disputes in the ANC are complicated but broadly follow an Africanist/nationalist group versus a SACP/Cosatu/anti-nationalist group. Neither Jacob Zuma nor Kgalema Motlanthe are clearly in either camp (but Zuma tends towards the former and Motlanthe towards the latter). Only one potential challenger, Tokyo Sexwale, is firmly in one group (the nationalists, which is the ideological home of the ANC Youth League) and he has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than winning this competition.

Only Motlanthe could seriously challenge Zuma in a succession race and despite all the rumours and leaks it is by no means clear whether he has any intention of running – or, if he did, whether he would have a significantly different policy agenda than that being pursued by Zuma and his backers.

After last week’s Cosatu strike against labour brokers and e-tolling the question of the future of the relationship between the Cosatu and the ANC has again consumed public debate.

I have quickly jotted down some of the issues as I see them and how I think the situation might play out in the longer term (and apologies for scruffiness – I am under the whip):

It is necessary to understand what these organisations are and how they differ – before we think about what they might do

Cosatu is a federation of trade unions (trades union, actually … but that always sounds a little pompous) and therefore represents employed workers while the ANC is currently the ruling political party in this country and as such represents a much broader set of interests, especially, in this case, the unemployed and business – and is additionally obliged to balance these interests against each other.

It is obvious why Cosatu must oppose labour brokers. Cosatu has spent considerable energy in influencing the ANC to structure the labour market in a way that strengthens it’s cartel-like hold on the supply of labour. Labour brokers are a way in which the unemployed and potential employers can circumvent some of the strictures of the regulatory environment. Labour brokers have helped create a shadow duality in the market – and have thus caused Cosatu to lose some control over supply.

Another way of saying this …. If you have one set of workers that are employed with the full  protections and benefits afforded them by legal and regulatory structuring of the labour market and another set who are essentially desperate enough to work for less money and with less job security, then those who cannot find a place in the first set have the option of joining the second set – and employers who cannot afford to shop in the first set will shop in the second … meaning Cosatu loses control over supply.

Cosatu argues that if you make the existence of the ‘second set’ illegal it will force employers to shop in the ‘first set’ – thereby creating permanent ‘quality jobs’.

The eternal wrangle is that most economists and several ANC thinkers believe that what actually would happen (and is happening) is employers, at some difficult to determine point, decide that the costs and hassles of only having the ‘first set’ to shop in incentivises them to “shop elsewhere” – shift parts of the labour process to other countries where labour protections are less onerous on the employer, or they mechanise the labour process – hence the structural nature of our unemployment.

The ANC, on the other hand, is under the whip to create more employment – and that pressure comes directly from the unemployed. The youth wage subsidy scheme was correctly understood by Cosatu to be seen as a threatening – to its interests – attempt to create duality through the back door. The ANC agrees with Cosatu that many labour brokers are guilty of the worst excesses of free market exploitation, but propose to remedy the situation by regulating the labour brokers more carefully … not removing them completely from the market.

But what about the e-tolling?

Essentially the e-tolling issue was serendipitous timing for Cosatu. Completely separate disputes occurred in Nedlac over e-tolling and labour brokers so Cosatu had the right to declare protest strikes and marches under section 77 (1) (d) of the Labour Relations Act against either, neither or both issues – they did both. Essentially the melding of the actions allowed Cosatu to win a few class allies to its cause of opposing labour brokers. Not that e-tolling is not genuinely hated by Cosatu and the federation believes that its members will be worst effected … which should give you an insight into just who Cosatu’s members are and the difference between them and the marginalised and unemployed majority who would invariably use un-tolled public transport (mostly taxis) or travel on shank’s marewhich takes another kind of toll entirely.

Cosatu and Zuma

Cosatu clearly backed Zuma against Mbeki because it believed either that Zuma would be beholden to it and therefore allow it more policy access (which I think has essentially been true) … or just that Mbeki was a more dangerous enemy of Cosatu’s narrow agenda (something I also believe was true). There can be no argument that Zuma was more likely to hold ideological or policy agendas that were essentially closer to Cosatu’s. To my mind Cosatu was opportunistic and unprincipled – whichever way you spin it – in backing someone so clearly hell-bent on extending his control over patronage networks and making his family and friends fabulously wealthy.

One way to understand what is happening in Cosatu now is that one faction is trying to withdraw from the strategy because the Nkandla chickens are coming home to roosts, while the other faction is sticking to its guns.

I think, however, that both factions have realised that they have put too much energy into influencing national politics in the ANC and not enough energy into building up the federation’s grass-roots and factory-floor structures, membership and leadership. Trade unionism is on retreat globally – because of the globalisation of the labour market – and Cosatu is worried about not having stuck to its knitting (sorry for all the awful clichés here, but I am in something of a hurry.)

Cosatu has always had an ambiguous relationship with the ‘political movements’ – be those the United Democratic Front, Azapo or the ANC … perhaps even Inkatha should be included here. When Cosatu was established in 1985 out of the unions that had made up Fosatu (the Federation of South African Trade Unions) it immediately inherited the main debates and factions that had characterised trade unionism for years in South Africa.

The divisions centred around:

  1. whether to register and thereby co-operate with the Apartheid state
  2. whether white workers could be organised into progressive unions
  3. the desirability of general unions versus industry based unions
  4. ‘workerists’ versus ‘populists’ – which boiled down to a debate about whether unions should be involved in national politics and be in a formal relationship with the national political movements; whether they would be sucked into the agenda of those political movements and should therefore focus instead on ‘shop floor’ issues and maximum worker unity.

From the start the National Union of Mineworkers was a pro-ANC/SACP bastion within Cosatu and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, formed out of at least 6 other unions, came to represent a position more cautious and suspicious of the political movements.

Thus we have an emerging consensus in the press that Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have upped the ante against Zuma and ‘corrupt ANC leaders” while an SACP aligned faction including Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini and the powerful National Union of Mineworkers is firmly behind Zuma.

Currently Cosatu seems – to my mind – to have finessed an internal agreement between its factions to back Zuma for re-election at Mangaung in exchange for a more vigorous opposition to corruption generally in the ANC and to campaign for a more worker friendly ANC NEC to emerge out of Mangaung.

Ahead  … (remember ‘tomorrow’ is the country from which no-one has ever returned … so take this all with the appropriate pinch of salt):
  1. The struggle will continue. Cosatu has fought with the ANC since 1994 and strong suspicions existed between much of the trade union movement and the ANC before that. This is normal, natural and appropriate given the diverging interests of the people represented by each organisation. The relationship has always contained the seeds of its future breakdown.
  2. Zwelinzima Vavi’s faction is most similar to a combination of European social democrats, labour parties and green parties. It is radical and anti-capitalist, but it is also modern, deeply opposed to corruption and authoritarianism, has consistently taken the right line on Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS, is protective of the constitution and freedom of speech and is most likely to seek alliances with anti-ANC ‘civil society’ groups over single issue campaigns (right to know, freedom of speech, corruption, HIV/AIDS etc.)
  3. The tension is inbuilt … the ANC will never give into Cosatu’s full set of demands – if anything it will go the other way – and Cosatu will  never stop making the demands, louder and louder.
  4. At some future time – probably way down the road –  the Numsa faction will ally itself with those attempting to organise the constituency the ANC Youth League aspires to represent and break out of the ruling alliance to form a new left opposition. For the foreseeable future (and remember none of the future is actually foreseeable) the advantages of staying in the alliance with the ANC outwieghs the losses and gains that would be realised by setting off on their own.
  5. The SACP will increasingly concern itself with trying to mediate the relationship between Cosatu and the ANC – which effectively means it will support the Num faction or tendency in Cosatu. This is not a basis upon which a political party can sustain itself. The SACP would have to split from the ANC and fight elections on its own – essentially capture the space that a Numsa/ANCYL type breakaway might have occupied – if it was to grow and prosper. I don’t think this will happen and therefore I think the SACP will be gradually squeezed into irrelevance.

Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:

Firstly – a by-product of Malema’s (possible) retreat

I have a feeling that debates ranging from mine nationalisation, land distribution and continued white economic dominance in the South African economy have just been saved from the gangsters in the ANC Youth League who have been using these as a cover for looting.

It has been difficult not to lump every statement about ongoing race based inequality with the smokescreen slogans used by the ANC Youth League leadership – and many equally corrupt politicians.

The latest Commission of Employment Equity Annual Report says whites still occupy 73.1 percent of top management positions – and blacks 12.7, Indians 6.8 and coloureds 4.6?  Yeah, well they would say that wouldn’t they – after all, that is (one of) Jimmy Manyi’s old outfits and he is the grandmaster of running racial interference for pillaging resources destined for development!

Willing-seller, willing buyer policy of land distribution responsible for only 5 percent of redistribution targets met? Yeah, well, guess who are trying to get themselves a portfolio of farms a la Zanu-PF?

Nationalise the mines? Yeah, so you can rescue your BEE backers and get a piece of the action yourself?

But that was last week.

Those issues are back on the agenda, but this time the discussion might be led by people genuinely looking to harness the country’s resources for development and transformation – not looters, corrupt tenderpreneurs and “demagogic populists” disguising their true intentions.

If anyone thought we could go on with the levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty and racially skewed distribution of ownership and control of this economy I suspect they will find they have been very much mistaken.

One of the consequences of the retreat of the Malema agenda is that we will all have to deal with the issues we have, up until now, been able to dismiss or deflect because they were ‘owned” and propagated by thugs.

Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is

In a similar vein – and my favourite read of the week – was Itumeleng Mahabane’s column in Friday’s Business Day.

He deals with a variety of aspects of the country’s debates about development and transformation.

In tones that have been tightly stripped – of anger, I suspect – Mahabane appeals for the debate to lose the “prejudicial invectives” and that participants should “desist from creating cardboard villains”.

He makes 4 main points (actually he makes a whole lot more, and it is not impossible that I misinterpret him here – and he is certainly more subtle and nuanced than my summary below – so read the original column – the link again.)

Firstly he suggests (although in the form of a question, not the statement as I have it here) that we have to acknowledge the damage our Apartheid past has done our country, leaving “the inequity of our income distribution and the historic systematic destruction of black capability”.

Secondly he hints that the state cannot assume more economic responsibility before we have fixed accountability – and thereby arrested corruption.

Thirdly he appeals for a sophistication of our views on the labour market – I think by suggesting that a degree of duality is crucial.

But, he warns:

I do not subscribe to the simplistic and questionable idea that the inability to hire and fire people is the core cause of structural unemployment. The balanced high growth would create demand for labour, regardless of labour rigidity.

Fourthly he asked us analysts why:

we casually, without considering the social implications, vilify workers and the working class, making them useful villains for complex economic challenges? We almost never give view to the body of evidence that shows that market rigidity and anticompetitive behaviour is a significant factor in deterring investment and output and that, in fact, it contributes to SA’s excessive business and skilled-labour rents.

Those are important views – and an important corrective to aspects of our debate about development.

Sitting in a lobby between meetings with resource funds in Edinburgh – they want to know about the “nationalisation of mines” call and where I think that is going. I will try and give feedback about that as I go along (London tonight and USA next week.)

But meanwhile briefly: the Black Management Forum pull out from Business Unity South Africa?

“The Capitalists” have never been a unified block; but the split between what BMF and BUSA represent is important.

As I have said elsewhere, BMF (along with the Youth League and similar groups) want the goodies out of employment equity and black economic empowerment legislation and regulation for themselves. They do not care about the functionality of the parastatals or the state or legislation that encourages economic growth. They care about maximising their advantage from transformation – getting the top jobs in parastatals and getting access to control of the linked patronage networks.

BUSA represents productive business – that needs a functional state and needs working utilities. It needs the best management. Its interests are in direct opposition to the BMF’s -  which represents the most parasitic elements of the new elite and see the public sector (as well as their leveraged advantage in the private sector) as an opportunity for rent seeking and looting.

I am delighted that they have pulled out of BUSA. At some point in a struggle to persuade a group to see the bigger picture and take account of the broader set of interests (especially of the poor and unemployed) a line is crossed and a cartel morphs into a gang. Beyond that point the laws of engagement have changed.

If you could see the sneering disgust from a whole lot of fund mangers about cronyism and corruption in South Africa (that I am experiencing as I move around Europe and the UK), I think you would agree that it is past time for us to deal with those who have proven that all they are concerned about is looting and getting the best for themselves and their members.

Let them go into the wilderness and raid as the outlaws that they are.

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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