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Here are some bits and pieces I highlighted for investors over the last few weeks. Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to republish these snippets here … it is also a touch more information that most people require, but I post it here for the record, if nothing else.

I write these under considerable time pressure  – deadline 06h30 0n Monday mornings. They can sometimes be a bit scrappy, but mostly (although with exceptions) still relevant a few weeks later. Where I say ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’ (or whatever) I mean: relative to the date in the highlighted headline above each section. The newest is on the top – stretching all the way back to the ancient history of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the US-Africa summit in Washington.

 

01/09/2014

Lesotho, South Africa … and the Guptas

Lesotho Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, was assisted by South African special forces soldiers to flee to South Africa in the face of a military backed ‘coup’ on early Saturday morning. The ‘coup’ (or ‘coup attempt’ – both terms are used extensively in the coverage) was allegedly orchestrated by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.

The key features of the event were the co-ordinated encircling of police barracks by the military, the disarming of the police and the seizing of the national broadcaster in the country’s capital Maseru on Saturday. (Sunday Times, Voice of America, City Press, Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014).

The Sunday Times story suggests the ‘coup’ was sparked by Friday’s firing of army chief Lieutenant-General Kennedy Kamoli by Lesotho’s King Letsie. The City Press reports that South African troops are on standby for further interventions.

Lesotho army spokesman Major Ntele Ntoi has denied there was a coup and says the army’s actions were purely to disarm police “who had been preparing to provide weapons to political parties” – Sunday Times.

Thabane, in a phone interview with Voice of America, said he was not going back until his safety was secured, that there was a situation of “total indiscipline” in the army and that soldiers were “running around the streets, threatening people” and “quite openly stating that they want my neck” – see here for VOA coverage.

So what?

This is almost too bizarre to type out, but here goes: a significant portion of the coverage of the event refers to the recent controversy surrounding the issuing by Thabane of diplomatic passports to the Gupta brothers (who we know better as key Zuma and ANC backers and funders, see Mail and Guardian coverage “The Grim Tales of the Brothers Gupta” for background).

At the time of the appointment Thobane said “(t)hese people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC and we have good relations with the ANC … I was introduced to them by ANC president [Jacob Zuma] and other ANC officials… I then appointed them to help scout for investment in my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho” – see here for that story.

In highly interpenetrated and interdependent systems of patronage and corruption, unsuccessful attempts to defend one part of the system can unravel the whole system and cause destabilisation throughout the linked networks.

 

Jacob Zuma’s Russian rest

Jacob Zuma visited Russia this week for six days. He had a light schedule and was, unusually, only accompanied by State Security Minister David Mahlabo and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindia Mfeketo. There has been widespread but largely fruitless speculation about what the President was doing in Russia. (See City Press’s “Jacob Zuma’s mysterious mission to Russia” and former leader of the opposition DA Tony Leon in the Sunday Times in an opinion piece titled “How much more abuse can the constitution take from Zuma?” … unfortunately can’t find a link to that.)

So what?

The crisis faced by Russian President Putin is, by all accounts serious and urgent – and it might seem unlikely that he would have made time for a casual tête-à-tête with Jacob Zuma. Thus we can assume that Putin was in part motivated by wanting to demonstrate he still has friends in an increasingly chilly world. Also there is the sourcinig of agricultural products to fill the gaps left by European and US sanctions against Russia over Ukraine – a job South Africa could be well placed to do.

However Jacob Zuma appeared less to be representing South Africa and more on a personal visit – with several reports, including from government, that he would use the opportunity to rest.

It is difficult to escape the perception of two embattled leaders involved in a perhaps complicated exchange and attempting to secure their present and future:

  • there is the upcoming ZAR850bn nuclear build programme that probably depends on Jacob Zuma staying at the helm in South Africa – Russia reportedly hopes to be central to that programme.
  • Jacob Zuma’s key spy chiefs all reportedly resigned when he (Zuma) refused to allow them to investigate the Gupta brothers as a serious threat to national security (see back story on that here).
  • Jacob Zuma faces unprecedented blowback at home, including the possibility of a public discussion around the original fraud, corruption and racketeering charges against him (see here) now that the famous Spy Tapes are to be handed to the Democratic Alliance in the official opposition’s attempts to have the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision not to charge Zuma reviewed.
  • Also in yesterday’s Sunday Times was an important ‘leaked’ story that South Africa had sent a large group of intelligence officers to be trained in Russia and that “the Russians have recruited at least four of our people, which means we are sitting with double agents” – according to an unnamed source “with inside knowledge of the programme” – Sunday Times 31/08/2014.
Twinkle Toes (Pic from GCIS)

Jacob’s Ladder (geddit?) and check out the body languege (Pic from GCIS)

It is not inconceivable or unreasonable to consider the possibility that Jacob Zuma is asking for intelligence and security coverage and offering in return nuclear contracts and public expressions of support. It’s not a perfect theory, but some kind of explanation is required.

 

Ruling alliance divides itself neatly on defending or attacking the public protector – is Jacob Zuma becoming a cost the ANC cannot bear much longer?

Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu general secretary, broke ranks with the ANC on Saturday arguing that the Public Protector’s recommendations on resolving the Nkandla dispute (in which over ZAR200 million of public money was spent irregularly on Jacob Zuma’s private house) should be implemented immediately … “all of them, without exception.” Vavi went on to say that criticism of Madonsela were “absolutely disgusting, to say the least”– Vavi in the Sunday Times 31/08/2014.

So what?

While the main structures of the ANC and its government attempt to close ranks around Jacob Zuma as the multiple scandals unfold and the threats against him grow, the hegemony is crumbling and the edges.

The ANC still has a comfortable electoral majority although as I have pointed out on many occasions, at least part of the electoral declines the ruling party experienced in May, especially in the sophisticated metropolitan areas of the economic heartland of Gauteng, have to do with perception of corruption and mismanagement at the top. It is difficult not to concur with the implicit meaning of the headline of Barney Mthombothi’s column in the Sunday Times yesterday which reads: “ANC courts its own destruction”.

We must consider that the cost of defending Zuma’s multiple infractions is starting to tell on the ANC (as it is telling on the party’s alliance with Cosatu).

I would reason that the ANC’s brand value is being seriously impacted by Jacob Zuma’s presidency and that, almost as a natural law, such a threat to value will call into being an attempt to defend the value by those who have the most to lose (other leaders and members of the ANC)

It’s the future, so I am guessing, but I think it is an even chance that Jacob Zuma will be moved into retirement within the next two years and that the official reasons will be related to his health.

(This added as I post these comments here: the above several paragraphs might be wishful thinking. If you want to see a well reasoned opinion that takes the opposite view, see the interesting  Daily Maverick column by Ranjeni Munusami arguing that Zuma will see out his second term. I suspect that I just can’t live in a world where the thugs get away with it for ever (this paragraph was edited after posting – Ed)

 

Ebola spreads to Senegal – World Health Organisation warns of ‘rapid hike’ in infections

The Ebola (haemorrhagic fever) epidemic ‘sweeping’ West Africa has killed approximately 1500 people and the first cases have been confirmed in Senegal, having up until now being confined in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

So what?

Ebola was first identified in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976 and outbreaks have been common in Central and Western Africa since that time. The disease is isolated and confined to countries with weak public health systems and high levels of poverty. In all the news coverage, the headlines tend to be more alarming than the content of the stories. There are various experimental drugs in trial (including one made jointly by GlaxoSmithKline and the US government which has achieved high levels of success) – Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014.

 

25/08/2014

Pay Back the Money … or we’ll huff and we’ll puff

Julius Malema and his cohorts in the National Assembly didn’t quite blow the House down on Thursday last week during President’s Question Time.

JULIUS

They disrupted parliament by demanding that Jacob Zuma pay back a portion of the costs of upgrades to his Nkandla home, as specified by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Their chanted refusal to accept the stock brushoff from Zuma and the poor management of the showdown by Baleka Mbete, Parliamentary Speaker (and ANC National Chairperson), is the leading edge of yet another storm that concerns Jacob Zuma’s integrity – and the ability of the constitutional mechanisms to hold him to account. (Here for a useful and interesting take on festivities.)

 

But political theatre becomes something more serious as the Public Protector and the ANC and its allies go head-to-head on the issue

Several Sunday papers reported yesterday ( 24/08/2014) that the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has sent a letter to Jacob Zuma criticising several aspects of his response to her Secure in Comfort report and specifically arguing that he (Zuma)  did not have the constitutional right to set aside or review her findings or to allow Police Minister Thathi Nhleko to do so (in essence Zuma has asked Nhleko to determine what his – Zuma’s – financial obligations are with regard to the Nkandla security upgrades).

According to constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos Madonsela is well within her rights. “This is not legally controversial,” he says, quoted in today’s Business Day (25/08/2014). “The president is either receiving appallingly bad legal advice or he is wilfully abusing his power and thwarting the law to protect himself in order to unlawfully benefit financially from the state.”

Both the ANC and the SACP came out late yesterday afternoon strongly critical of Madonsela, arguing that she had overreached herself, especially as a parliamentary committee was currently dealing with the matter.

So what?

The clash in parliament on Thursday made a significant media impact and it seemed for a moment that the damage being done the ANC by the party endlessly having to defend its wayward leader could conceivably lead to some profound political realignment.

But that feeling was brief.

The EFF has 25 MPs in the National Assembly, to the ANC’s 249 and the DA’s 89.  The chances are, the ANC in parliament will work out a set of rules that essentially disciplines the EFF (already MPs may be suspended for not more than 30 days and have their salary docked for the same period).

Jacob Zuma is a master at diverting crises like this into long (perhaps endless) processes that have a degree (or at least a semblance) of legitimacy and constitutionality. And there is a parliamentary process dealing with Nkandla underway and whether this process is an attempt to ‘set aside or review’ the Public Protector’s findings could be the subject of years’ of constitutional debate, such that many of the players will be long gone by the time it is resolved.

There is considerable stability in a system so tightly bound within itself through links of patronage and shared loyalties – although I suspect that when such a system eventually unwinds, it unwinds quickly and perhaps catastrophically.

Jacob Zuma is off for a week in Russia – to work and to rest – and the game will go on. “The visit will further strengthen the excellent bilateral relations with a view to consolidating and opening new avenues towards job creation, skills development, exchange and transfer of technology and trade and investment,” said the Department of International Relations yesterday.

There may be some future moment when the ANC could face electoral losses because of public perceptions about corruption of its leaders, but that day is still far enough ahead to not impact (in any meaningful way) upon behaviour in the present.

(So … that isn’t a direct contradiction on what Nic thought on September 1, but it is more than a little close. I strongly suspect it might be a biorhythm, or hormonal thing – Ed)

 

Julius Malema … how did he ‘Pay Back the Money’?

Julius Malema appears in court today to face questions about where he got the money to pay his R18 million tax bill. According to Rapport newspaper (24/08/2014) the South African Revenue Service (Sars), would ask for a two-month extension of Malema’s provisional sequestration to determine where he got the money to repay his tax debt each month. The newspaper reports that “impeccable sources” allege that “cigarette smuggler Andriano Mazzotti was helping to pay his tax debt” – as re-reported at the Independent Online 25/08/2014 – see here. (I don’t know the Afrikaans language Rapport newspaper well – it is part of Naspers’s Media24 stable – treat the claim with maximum caution). (Not because of Naspers of Media24 – for so are they all, all honourable men … the caution is purely because the claim is faintly outrageous, which doesn’t mean it’s not true – Ed)

So what?

While Julius Malema’s insistence that Jacob Zuma account to parliament is welcome, we should be careful to not lose our sense of discernment. Julius Malema himself has faced a long list of accusations similar to those he is making against the ANC and Jacob Zuma.

 

Land and wage reform – unintended consequences

Two interesting articles in the Sunday papers hint at some of the negative unintended consequences of attempts to protect the interests of the marginalised and vulnerable workers on South African farms.

Firstly, the Sunday Times (24/08/2014) has a colour piece titled “Good intentions pave the road to rural hell” in which the 1997 Extension of Security of Tenure Act is assessed as having “led to as many as a million farmworkers being evicted countrywide”.

Secondly, the Sunday Independent (24/08/2014) records an interesting discussion about the impact of ‘minimum wage’ determinations on employment. The article shares different views on the matter, but concludes that in SA agriculture “the impact was devastating: Employment fell from 819 048 jobs in 2002, just before the law came into effect, to 623 750 jobs in 2003 and continued to decline to 555 549 jobs in 2007 – a net loss of almost a third in five years.”

So what?

The ANC has signalled an urgent desire to ‘get serious’ about land reform.  As we have mentioned previously ‘the land question’ seems to suggest to the ANC an answer to a host of social needs: employment, housing, food security, and black economic empowerment, to name only the most obvious. Racially unequal land ownership patterns (it is generally quoted that SA had 87% of land in white hands at the 1994 transition and that less than 8% has been redistributed since – see here) are also a driver of political dissatisfaction, perhaps helping feed the growth of the EFF and other ‘radical’ forces emerging in the society.

For now government is preparing a host of new legislation and regulation all the while signalling to commercial agriculture that it wants to be met half-way. There will probably be unintended consequences of government’s land reform and rural development programme (including negative impacts) but the lessons from the banking sector (for example with regard to the formulation of the National Credit Act) is that it is always a better idea for the private sector to go out and engage with government and attempt to shape legislation than it is to wait and deal with the future when it is a fait accompli.

 

21/08/2014

Mining, oil and gas sectors: legislative and regulatory drift and a scary audit

Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi didn’t calm nerves last week during his address to the third annual Mining Lekgotla. The minister is overseeing two significant regulatory processes causing anxiety in these sectors, namely a major audit of mining companies’ compliance with the 10 year targets of the Mining Charter and the signing into law of a bill amending the Mineral and Petroleum Development Act of 2002 (which the private sector thought it had essentially cautiously agreed to in exchange for it – the private sector – being consulted in detail about the regulations that would arise from the legislation).

With regard to the audit, Minister Ramathlodi said: “(w)hile the review process on the implementation of the Mining Charter is still under way, initial results suggest that whatever compliance we may have achieved, much more work still needs to be done” – Business Day -14/08/2014

With regard to the legislation the Minister said he had not been informed by the Presidency whether or when the bill would be signed into law. “There are legal teams that look at any legislation coming before the president and they advise him. When they do so we’ll act on that advice” – Business Day ibid.  Download Minister Ramatlhodi’s full address at the DMR website here.

So what?

Firstly, the audit obliges the mining companies to meet various ‘transformation’ obligations and targets by 2014 e.g., 26% of the company must be owned, through “full shareholder rights”,  by HDSA (Historically Disadvantaged South Africans) by the end of this year – as a precondition for the retention of the mining right. Go to www.dmr.gov.za to see the “Mining Charter” and the “Scorecard for the Broad-Based Socio-economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining Industry” to get a full view.

2014 is the year in which several definite obligations must be met by the mining companies and there is a degree of nervousness by investors and management as to how strict the audit will be, how much leeway the ministry will give and how severe the consequences of failure will be.

Purely the administrative aspects of the reporting process are enough to be a serious burden for smaller mining companies, according to Nic Dinham, Head of Resources at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities

The apparent prevarication in signing the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill, after months of careful negotiations between the department and the mining companies, has caused the industry to worry that deals struck and compromises made might be up for renegotiation. There was a general expectation that the constitutionality of the amendments would need to be tested and examined (especially government’s 20% proposed free-carry interest in all new exploration and production rights in the oil and gas sector).  It appears to me that the delays are adding to a more generalised sense of uncertainty about the growing regulatory burden and costs associated with continuing to mine in South Africa.

 

Amcu set to go on the offensive at Num’s last toeholds in the Platinum sector – non-cyclical risk factors in the SA labour environment escalate

Nic Dinham (BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities Head of Resources referred to in a previous section) said yesterday that in the platinum operations where Amcu is not (yet) the major union (at several mines, but including those operations at Aquarius Platinum and Northam Platinum) there were significant indications that Amcu was close to recognition thresholds (specific to each company) and that it was reasonable to expect increased labour unrest at the particular operations and companies where Num was clinging to a majority.

“During the recent result presentations, several companies reported that operations previously dominated by Num are showing signs of losing ground to Amcu, especially in the Rustenburg areas”, said Dinham.

“This is the case at Aquarius Platinum as well as at Northam where Amcu membership has risen to 30% and 15% respectively, just short of both companies’ recognition levels. Clearly, this could be the harbinger of more labour storms to come. At the same time, only small numbers of workers in the existing Amcu fortresses switched to NUM after the end of the strike. So, despite all the rational arguments about the financial impact of the strike on labour, Amcu appear to have won the propaganda war with the mining industry” – Nic Dinham, 20/08/2014.

So what?

There are a number of important implications, not least of which is the confirmation (and deepening) of the implicit defection of mineworkers in the Platinum sector from a key ANC aligned union (Num) and the continued disintegration of previously powerful trade union federation and ANC ally, Cosatu.

In some ways this frees the ANC (and government) to decide on economic policy without having to kowtow to Cosatu, but it will also raise anxieties in the ruling party about the narrowing of its base – and a diminishment of its hegemony and moral authority.

None of that is necessarily a bad thing. It is my opinion that our legislative and regulatory environment has tended to suffer from a lack of clarity and focus as a result of the ANC attempting to keep a number of different legacy constituencies (and sectional interests) happy and on-board.

However, it is also worth noting that my general expectation of a deteriorating labour environment is strengthened by concerns about labour unrest driven by further contestation between Amcu and Num. This, together with a coming trial of strength in all (or most) Cosatu unions that will accompany the impending Numsa split out of Cosatu will be a strong, non-cyclical, driver of labour unrest for the next 18 months. Jeff Schultz (BNP Paribas Cadiz Economist) and I recently suggested that these strands driving labour unrest, along with what we expect will be a major confrontation that will accompany the lead-up to the expiry of the current 3-year public sector wage agreement in March 2015, will keep labour risks at elevated levels in the South African investment environment for at least another 18 months.

 

Cyril Ramaphosa – a hard week down at the Commission

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa last week faced an avalanche of criticism and heckling at the Farlam Commission (which is investigating the killing of 44 people at Marikana on and before August 16 2012 in the context of the protracted strike at Lonmin mines in the Rustenburg area at that time).

Cyril Ramaphosa was called to the commission to explain his actions in the lead-up to the Marikana killings. Ramaphosa was on the Lonmin board at the time and in an email to Lonmin managers he said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”. In both these cases I have added the emphasis.

At the Farlam Commission hecklers shouted “Blood on your hands” (City Press 11/08/2014) during Ramaphosa’s cross-examination. Hecklers wore T-shirts with several different slogans criticising Ramaphosa’s wealth, for example one showed a buffalo in reference to the fact that Ramaphosa bid – unsuccessfully as it turned out – R19.5 million for a buffalo cow and her calf at a wildlife auction a month after the Marikana killings in 2012.

So what?

There is a high level of speculation as to whether Cyril Ramaphosa will succeed Jacob Zuma as president (when the current presidential term expires in 2019 or at some earlier date due to Jacob Zuma’s purported ill health.) There appears to me to be a widespread assumption in the financial markets that Cyril Ramaphosa, as an experienced businessman and an experienced negotiator and conciliator who was central to easing the transition at Codesa 1 and 2 in the early 90s, would be more sensitive to the needs of the private sector, more compliant with global capital markets and, generally, run a cleaner and more efficient ship.

Implicit in that list of attributes is the person who Ramaphosa would be cleaner than, more conciliatory than, more understanding of private sector needs than, is Jacob Zuma. It is impossible to know either that Ramaphosa really has such attributes relative to Zuma or that it is really or primarily those attributes that make Ramaphosa a more attractive choice than Zuma for the financial markets … or, in fact, whether the ‘financial markets’ really makes these kinds of distinctions.

It is my impression that Jacob Zuma’s rise to power and performance as president has been accompanied (and in several cases directly caused) increased political risks associated with investing in the country. Almost any successor would probably be welcomed by the markets. However we would be cautious about seeing Ramaphosa as the knight in shining armour. He is badly damaged by his link to the Marikana killings (unfair as that may be) and he has not yet established a significant constituency within the ANC. The fact that he is a rich man can play both ways; it gives him resources to build his case but it makes him vulnerable to accusations of conspicuous consumption and being out of touch with common people. It is also inescapably true that his wealth has been accumulated more as a result of ‘empowerment deals’, the accumulation of large slices of equity, rather than the involvement in any of the underlying activities (mining, banking, health care etc).

More than anything we must keep front of mind that much ANC policy and politics is determined in the forums of the party – long in advance of such policies and politics becoming law and regulation. The particular character of leaders makes a difference, but in the South African case, not as big a difference as it might elsewhere.

 

The noise around land reform is (partly) bluster designed to get commercial agriculture to act voluntarily

Urging Commercial farmers to take voluntary steps ‘advancing the transformation project in the agriculture sector’, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said “change that is imposed is more painful” – Business Day 14/08/2014.  Mantashe told attendees at a conference on land reform and food production that land reform was necessary if South Africa was to deal with the “ugly past of racial land dispossession of black people” and that farmers must never allow themselves “to be victims of change” – Business Day ibid.

So what?

We previously described in some detail some of the legislative initiatives around land reform and one of the points we made about assessing the risks associated with the land reform initiative is reinforced by Gwede Mantashe’s choice of words.

The ANC feels keenly its failure to successfully complete a significant process of land reform and redress – and is, in part, being punished for that failure by the (still slight) electoral traction achieved by the ostensibly more radical Economic Freedom Fighters on their debut in the general election on May 7 2014.

However, the ANC feels, at least as keenly, the threats to investment that would result if property rights were ever threatened by an unruly and uncertain ‘land reform’ process à la Zimbabwe.

Commercial farming does not have the handy (from the ANC’s point of view) equivalent to the mining sector’s mineral rights to attach to a number of ‘transformation’ objectives. The ANC would be extremely cautious about bluntly attaching a ‘licence to farm’ (or in fact a ‘licence to operate any business’) directly to ‘transformation objectives’. There is a line beyond which such rights and obligations could constitute a nationalisation in fact and might be both unconstitutional and, certainly, a serious barrier to future investment.

Thus the ANC, in the form of its secretary general, is snapping at the heels of domestic commercial agriculture, attempting to herd it towards the ‘transformation’ objective, putting the argument that this is the national good, but hinting that a bite on the ankle could be the laggard’s reward. It is an open question as to whether farmers would respond to such incentives with greater compliance or with resistance, both covert and overt. However, for now, we think the ANC’s (and therefore government’s) land reform bark is worse than its bite.

 

Bits and pieces

  • Jacob Zuma put out a report last week which he and his spokespeople claim is a satisfactory response to the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s, “Secure in Comfort” report into the upgrades to the President’s private Nkandla residence in which she finds several faults with the President’s actions and inactions. The delay, over many months, of a response from Jacob Zuma to Thuli Madonsela was ostensibly as a result of him (Zuma) awaiting a report from the Special Investigating Unit. However, on Friday a spokesperson for the Public Protector said Zuma’s report was not a response, adequate or otherwise, to Secure in Comfort. ““That means a document that comments on the public protector’s report or indicates action taken or to be taken to implement remedial action in compliance with section 3(5) of the Executive Members Ethics Act must still be submitted to Parliament by the president” – my emphasis added.
  • Jacob Zuma’s team is preparing to hang expense overruns and incorrect categorisation of some items as ‘security related’ on Jacob Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya. The Mail and Guardian reports that the “Special Investigating Unit has lodged a R155-million claim against Makhanya” – 15/08/2014.
  • And in other news Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol who was shouldered with the blame for the landing of a large private wedding party at a secure military base by the close Zuma allies and business partners the Gupta brothers and family last year, was nominated by Jacob Zuma as Ambassador to The Hague. In August last year, Koloane pleaded guilty to all charges relating to his involvement in authorising the controversial landing of the jet.
  • It’s not (just) idle mischief putting these bullets together. If the President’s own actions around his accumulation of personal assets and special favours to his friends can impact on the formal judicial, disciplinary and constitutional oversight functions, if his party can go to extreme lengths to protect him from the consequences of his actions in accumulating personal wealth and influence, it is unlikely that private companies will be trustful of, or willingly and enthusiastically compliant with, the ‘transformation’ agenda emerging from the state, government and party he leads. Ultimately the private sector needs to believe that the value of its various social obligations ends up benefiting those who need the assistance the most. This is the price the private sector seems prepared to pay for stability and growth. Any sense that the public purse is hijacked or that equity transfers and affirmative action obligations have become a kind of asset that can be hoarded and dispensed as patronage by the politically powerful will cause the ‘transformation’ objective – and much else – to fail.

 

11/08/2014

‘Cabinet leaning to break-up Eskom’ – Business Day 05/08/2014 … I would be extremely surprised

Business Day reported that the idea of breaking up Eskom and privatising some of its power stations “is starting to gain traction in government circles, as a team of cabinet ministers and government officials seeks ways to alleviate the company’s financial crisis and restructure its business” – Business Day 05/08/2014.

The governing ANC’s alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) vowed the next day to fight any such privatisation “to the bitter end” arguing that electricity price inflation, driven by the ‘commercialisation’ of the utility in the first place, was “one of the key constraints” on economic growth and an important reason South Africa “is not creating decent jobs the country so desperately needs” (catch the full August 6 Cosatu statement here.)

On the same day Lynne Brown, the Minister of Public Enterprises, said “I want to indicate that there is a portfolio of options for the interministerial task team to consider. To my knowledge Cabinet has not discussed the matter of privatisation and there is no need to unnecessarily raise temperatures around this matter” – City Press Online, 06/08/2014. The ‘task team’ to which she refers was described (in the same story) as “representing energy, public enterprises and the treasury” and further, that the findings of the team had not yet been made public.

So what?

This is, supposedly, a defining issue for the ruling faction of the ANC and its allies in Cosatu and the SACP. Much of the motivation for backing Jacob Zuma (and ousting Thabo Mbeki) was – apparently – that Mbeki’s policies were a species of Thatcherism (especially the plan to privatise the major state utilities). The alliance backing Jacob Zuma defined its historical mission as the combating of this “1996 class project”, a catch-all phrase for neoliberalism, fiscal rectitude and the ‘Washington Consensus’.

It might well be true that the breaking up and privatisation of Eskom is an urgent necessity – or even a precondition for recovery from our dire economic state – but it is a political nonstarter, requiring the complete breakup of the alliance of groups that hold power, and is therefore vanishingly unlikely to happen, even symbolically.

 

National Prosecuting Authority in free fall and intelligence services are extensively deployed on behalf of senior politicians and criminals – and the storm is beginning to batter against the South African Revenue Service – this is as serious and urgent as it is confusing and complicated

There is an on-going meltdown at the heart of the criminal justice system which is increasing risks in doing business with, or in, the areas administered by the South African state.

Here are only a few of the most recent visible features of the (complex and confusing) disintegration:

  • Jacob Zuma has asked the National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana to give reasons why he should not be suspended. The apparent motivation is that Nxasana has problems associated with his security clearance (owing to his brushes with the law, including a murder charge, when he was a younger man). However, almost all the coverage and analysis suggests that the ‘real reason’ is Nxasana has pursued investigations of key Zuma allies in the NPA and Crime Intelligence Division of the South African Police Service and his (Nxasana’s) actions threaten to lead, eventually, to fraud and corruption charges being reinstated against Jacob Zuma.
  • Award winning journalist Mzilikazi wa Africa published his memoir last week which includes a detailed account of how Jacob Zuma and his allies vigorously undermined the credibility of the first National Director of Public Persecutions Bulelani Ngcuka by spreading the false information that he (Ngcuka) was an apartheid spy.(See an interesting examination of this thread from Business Day 07/08/2014 here.) In here is the source code of much of the chaos in the prosecuting authority and intelligence service: Bulelani Ngcuka led the original investigation into the allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering against the then Deputy President Zuma, concluding that there was “prima facie” evidence that Zuma was guilty, but not enough to win in court – a statement to which Zuma, not unreasonably, strongly objected.
  •  “Sex, SARS and rogue spies” announced the front page headline in City Press yesterday (10/08/2014). The accompanying stories allege that senior SARS official, Johan van Loggenberg, has been the subject of a ‘honey trap’ operation by the State Security Agency “Special Operations Unit”. The story is Byzantine, but the important bit is the detailed allegation that the secret spy unit operating against van Loggenberg has also been used to discredit and smear a ‘anti-Zuma’ camp in the NPA and in Crime Intelligence. Bizarrely, the Special Operations Unit supposedly includes drug dealer Glen Agliotti.  (Read some of this story here and here … if you have the time or the patience.)

So what?

This level of political and criminal infiltration into key state institutions and functions, especially of the security services, the prosecuting authority and the South African Revenue Service raises real questions about judicial, regulatory and legislative certainty in the operating and investment environment. Uncertainty about the application of law, the integrity of the criminal justice system and the functioning of the revenue service must all be considered by anyone wanting to invest in South Africa or in assets regulated by South African institutions of state and law. Frankly, given the deep connections between the instability in these key sectors of the South Africa state and the rise to power of Jacob Zuma I am pessimistic that we have the capacity to fix this problem while the current administration is still in power.

The National Prosecuting Authority has appointed highly respected retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob to head an inquiry, or ‘fact finding mission’ into its dysfunctional state. Unfortunately Yacoob almost immediately (on Thursday last week while speaking at a workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand) happened to mention that he would have “set aside” the judgement that found Jacob Zuma not guilty of rape in 2006, because he would have put less emphasis on the alleged victim’s sexual history – see here. An outraged African National Congress said it learned of Yacoob’s comments “with shock and dismay” saying they “opened old wounds” and were “an attack on  principles of our jurisprudence and the judiciary.” Yacoob attempted to clarify his comments here but either way he is no longer likely to be the instrument that cleans up the National Prosecuting Authority.

 

 

Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission today as succession debate begins

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain today at the Marikana Commission what he meant when emailed other senior Lonmin managers just before the August 12 2012 killing of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana and said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”.

So what?

It is unlikely that the Commission will find anything untoward in Rampahosa’s messages. He was, after all, doing nothing other than responding to the growing violence of the strikers and Lonmin’s increasing anxiety about the strike. We are of the view that there is some political harm done Ramaphosa by his identification with mine management and government – and the police killing of the 34 mineworkers. There is a considerable degree of unease within the broad structures of the ANC and the electorate about the Marikana killings. The ANC is obliged to stand with its Deputy President on this matter, but it can’t be comfortable. This will play against Ramaphosa (although perhaps not decisively) in the coming succession contest in the ANC.

 

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Chairwoman of the African Union, fresh from pride of place at the US-Africa summit in Washington announced yesterday that she was undecided as to whether to stand for a second term in the AU (her current term expires in 2014 2016) This is inevitably raising questions about whether she will compete with Ramaphosa to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the country.

So what?

She is in the running – and is clean and capable. She is perhaps more of an insider in the ANC’s power elite than Cyril Ramaphosa and her winning this race might mean (unwelcome) continuities with the current administration. It’s too early to call it one way or another, but the ANC Women’s League has indicated that it could back Dlamini-Zuma (or Baleka Mbete) while the Gauteng ANC has indicated it could back Ramaphosa.  Officially succession would only take place after elections in 2019, but there are constant rumours that Jacob Zuma might want to retire early (or be forced to do so due to failing health). An early retirement of Jacob Zuma would probably be a significant positive for perceptions about South African political risk, but the specific circumstances of such a move would determine whether it would, in fact, be positive, negative or natural.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.

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

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

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

Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

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

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

Maggie1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Maggie3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

For the record – and on the off chance that  someone may one-day want some background on the (at time of writing) unresolved metalworkers strike – here are the bits and pieces I have published over the last two weeks; ordered from most recent at the top.

The piece from the eve of the strike was written jointly with my colleague (economist at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities) and friend Jeff Schultz … and just while I am on that, well done Jeff on your accurate 25 basis point hike call  from the SARB’s MPC.

(btw, I am publishing in something of a rush … I will attempt to clean up the formatting and editing over the next day or so.)

 

Numsa and SIEFSA – so near yet so far – 13th July 2014

The engineering strike has reached an impasse that is less insignificant than it first appears. Numsa, representing the majority of the 220 000 workers on strike, has gradually reduced its demand from 15% to 10%. SIEFSA is prepared to meet the 10% for the coming 1 year period but only if this is part of a 3 year agreement with 9.5% in 2015 and 9% in 2016. Numsa has rejected this offer (which SIEFSA subsequently withdrew) saying it will only agree to a 3 year agreement at 10% for each of the years

So what

The strike is entering its 16th day and the knock-on effects into the rest of the economy are severe; threatening our already anaemic GDP growth estimates.

Numsa has adequately jumped the hurdles to ‘prove’ that it is not opportunistically pursuing the industrial action purely as a way of building momentum towards launching a political party. By moving towards the employer organisation at each bargaining round (from 15% to 12% for 3 year agreements and then to 10% for a single year) but staying just out of reach of SIEFSA’s mandate, Numsa can now dig in its heals without losing the backing of those of its members who feel unwilling to be used in the Numsa leadership’s broader political game.

Numsa now promises to produce “a detailed Programme of Action (PoA) to intensify the (indefinite) strike action” – Numsa press release 14/07/2014. Numsa is hinting that this means getting other sectors in which it organises (especially the automobile manufacturing industry which is already negatively affected due to parts shortages) to strike in sympathy.

At issue here is that if our assumption that Numsa has ‘hidden’ motivations is correct, then predicting how and when the strike will end is that much more difficult.

Numsa’s trade union movement to the left of Cosatu and political party to the left of the ANC are an historical inevitability – and likely to garner significant support

A useful background article by Eddie Webster and Mark Orkin concerning the historical origins of, and potential support for, a ‘workers party’ appeared in Monday’s Business Day (15/07/2014). The article is based on “a large nationally representative sample of adults of all races” conducted in February and March this year and concludes that the party (which Numsa is pushing to form) could win as much as 33% of the national vote in an election. While we think these estimates are a bit rich, the article is a ‘must read’ for anyone wanting to understand the ideological origins and potential size of the initiative emerging from Numsa and other dissident Cosatu sectors and leaders.

To restate our oft restated view on this matter:

  • the initiative will cause heightened industrial unrest in the medium term (over 2 years) as the breakaway unions compete with established Cosatu unions;
  • the resulting ‘political initiative’ could push the ANC to a marginal hold on its absolute majority in future elections (potentially leading to more schizophrenic policies … but potentially having more positive impacts).

 

The National Union of Metalworkers is ready to fight – 30th June 2014

A strike in the engineering sector is on – and Numsa will attempt to extend the action to Eskom.

“The national executive committee has agreed to the decision from our members to embark on an indefinite strike action, beginning on July 1,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of Numsa yesterday at a media briefing (SABC News).

Numsa claims membership of 341,150 (making it easily the largest union in the country) and it organises 10,000 companies across the motor, auto, engineering, tyre and rubber sectors – although it is officially only the engineering sector that is targeted by the strike (see here for the strike certificate and the full lists of all unions and employers involved in the dispute).

(Note that the strike is not directly in the automakers’ sector. Numsa took 30,000 workers out on strike here in 2013 – in an action that ostensibly led to BMW shelving plans for a big South African investment. However the strike will affect the auto parts sector and hence could impact directly on the automakers’ sector.)

Irvin Jim, Numsa Secretary said members would also picket the headquarters of state power utility Eskom on July 2 as part of a push for a wage increase of 12% – in a linked, but separate action. Eskom is defined as an “essential service”, making strikes illegal.

(Note that while the Eskom action is separate but parallel to the strike against SIEFSA, Numsa says that Eskom will feel the impacts of the main action because of the mechanical and engineering contractors on the Medupi and Kusile building sites.)

SIEFSA (the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa) is the counterparty in the negotiation with Numsa (and five other unions). SIEFSA represents 27 independent employer bodies and 2,200 companies which employ over 220,000 hourly-paid workers – although 62% of those companies employ fewer than 50 workers (see the SIEFSA website here).

So what?

We (Jeff Schultz BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities economist and I) covered on Friday evening – quite extensively – the political and economic issues around the strike(see below).

The key points worth reiterating here are:

  • the potential impacts on the broader economy are profound – a characteristic that Numsa hopes to leverage off, helping to bring pressure on the employers represented in SIEFSA;
  • Numsa’s motivations include its political ambitions to set up a mass-based workers party – which makes the length of the strike and the tractability or otherwise of the union negotiators difficult to predict.

How government deals with Numsa’s apparent attempt to break the ‘essential services’ clause in the industrial relations regulatory framework is going to be interesting. Numsa is threatening to call 9,000 workers at the power utility out on strike after mobilising them through a protest action on Tuesday. “The intention is to move toward a full strike,” said Steve Nhlapo, Numsa’s sector coordinator for energy and non-precious metals. SIEFSA has offered a 5.6% wage increase and Numsa, coordinating its action across sectors, is demanding 12% (City Press 29/06/2014).

 

Numsa’s Industrial (political) action – June 27, 2014

Industrial relations

The possibility that 2014 would be another tumultuous year for South African labour relations looked good in January, and is coming true with a vengeance.

The cycle meets a secular trend

The five-month platinum sector strike – perhaps the most costly mining strike in the country’s history – and the metals and engineering workers’ strike from 1 July (based on confirmed reports in the media) might have happened as part of the normal cycle or normal part of the negotiation cycle – but we think the main drivers are secular.

NUMSA’s political ambitions coming to the fore

NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete against the ANC. We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike next week and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party (although we lay out several qualifiers in the main text.)

The risks to the real economy remain large

It is too soon to even estimate the numbers but a metals and engineering sector strike on the scale NUMSA plans could spell disaster for SA’s growth and investment outlook – at least in 2H 2014. We reiterate the large downside risks to our current 1.9% GDP growth estimate for 2014.

(The above  is the summary, below is the body – Ed)

SA industrial relations: The cycle meets the secular trend

Our long-held view that the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) are looking to vigorously compete for membership with other COSATU affiliated unions in different sectors of the economy is at the forefront of our concerns here. We believe this week’s press release by NUMSA sums this up quite succinctly:In our 2014 Outlook document released in early January we highlighted our expectation for another tumultuous year for South African labour relations and our concerns therein. With the more than five-month-long strike in the platinum sector likely to be one of the most costly in the country’s history and confirmed reports this week that the metals and engineering industries are now about to embark on a strike from 1 July, our concerns seem to have been warranted.

“Our NEC wishes to send a congratulatory message to the courageous mineworkers for securing a decisive and historic settlement in the platinum belt. This settlement is not only a victory for mineworkers, but for workers in South Africa as a whole. The settlement secured after bitter battles between workers and the mining ruling oligarchy has called on workers to not simply unite beyond the logos or t-shirt colours of their unions. It has renewed workers battle assertion of “an injury to one; is an injury to all”.

“Furthermore, it has called on the progressive trade union movement to go back to basics, and not to be used by politicians to garner electoral support and parliamentary seats, while worker grievances and challenges remain unresolved. Doing so will continue to lead to the implosion of those trade unions that possess a rich heritage in our struggle.”
NUMSA and the numerous elements/questions to considerIt seems to us that the ‘normal’ cyclical nature of industrial action in South Africa’s winter months is now also meeting a trend specific to this political-economic moment. We believe NUMSA (and AMCU’s motivations) are playing a role here, as is the orientation of government and the ANC towards these unions.

The questions on our minds concerning Numsa since at least January this year have included: ‘will NUMSA engage in industrial action primarily to build momentum for its soon to be launched political party or movement?’; and: ‘will NUMSA ride the anti-ANC momentum implicit in the platinum strike – and implicitly and explicitly build a relationship with AMCU?’ and finally: ‘how will this mobilisation relate to the Economic Freedom Fighters?’NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete with the ANC.

The EFF question is more difficult. NUMSA has been extremely cautious not to be seen to be sidling up to the EFF. NUMSA has widespread credibility and respect – and was a leading critic of Julius Malema’s ‘tenderpreneurial’ habits and the ‘proto-fascist’ nature of Malema’s mobilisation around mine nationalisation and expropriation of White-owned farm seizures. However, the actual policies of NUMSA and the EFF are extremely close, and, in our opinion, the EFF has successfully occupied a political niche very similar to the one the leadership of NUMSA would like to occupy. It would be in the interests of both the EFF and NUMSA to cooperate rather than compete directly – especially when they are both up against the ANC. This might end up resembling the careful courtship of porcupines – but we think it will be courtship nonetheless.We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party. And we do think that NUMSA is flirting, politely, with AMCU. On both these issues, however, we have many provisos, disclaimers and cautionary notes – which we deal with in the bullet points below.

Cautionary notes

  • A union, especially one as well organised and sophisticated as Numsa, understands that is does not have a free hand to pursue obviously political objectives around a wage strike. Strikes are costly to workers who are often indebted and whose lives and families can be seriously disrupted by a strike.
  • NUMSA’s grand ambitionsIn the NUMSA central executive committee statement this week, NUMSA presented its demands by stating “We have now made a significant compromise to decrease our wage demand to 12%”. This is NUMSA making sure it can say it has done what it can to avoid a strike while refusing to budge even one cent from 12%.
  • Remember too that in the communities where NUMSA’s membership lives, the African National Congress is electorally overwhelmingly dominant. Numsa must be cautious and limited in how it attempts to turn strike mobilisation into political mobilisation.

From the early 1990s, NUMSA has been the ‘left’ edge of COSATU and has long criticised the ANC – especially the fiscally conservative Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy adopted in 1996. However, throughout the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, NUMSA made the assessment that there was more to be had by being within the Ruling Alliance than without it – an assessment that is probably true, given the pro-union regulatory and legislative labour regime that was developed during that time.

NUMSA conceives itself as occupying or potentially occupying the centre of the economy. The trade union aspect to its political ambitions is that it hopes to ‘vertically integrate’ along the supply chains of energy (including construction of generation capacity – Medupi, Kusile), mining (including smelting and associated industries) and metalwork/engineering/manufacturing.However, NUMSA has always harboured an ideology way to the left of the ANC, i.e., explicitly socialist. It preached caution in dealing with the ‘African nationalist political formation’ (i.e., the ANC) which would try to co-opt socialist unions into the struggles of an aspirant black bourgeoisie. NUMSA preached a kind of ‘partyism’ (the belief that unions should only support a worker’s party) and ‘workerism’ (a belief that unions should stay away from politics to avoid co-option by political parties). In many ways, where things are heading is rooted in NUMSA’s long held ideology.

The real economy 

So what does all of this mean for the SA real economy and where do the risks lie?For almost 10 years, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been complaining that NUMSA constantly trespasses on its turf – poaching its members. NUM has also warned for many years that NUMSA has political ambitions driving its contestation for members with NUM and other COSATU unions. The seldom explicitly stated strategy (or fantasy) of the NUMSA leadership is that they can build a union or alliance of unions that can occupy the whole centre of the South African economy and spin or leverage that into powerful political influence – leading naturally to the formation of a mass socialist workers political party that contests with the ANC. We think this week’s actions by NUMSA are the next phase of these ambitions.

While we concede that it is a little premature to ascertain or quantify the 2H 2014 economic implications of the impending strike in the metals and engineering sector, we nevertheless find it necessary to highlight the risks and our concerns here.

The SARB calculate in its most recent quarterly bulletin that the impact of the loss of production in the PGM sector in 1Q thanks to strikes equates with a decrease of 0.3% in real GDP (or 1.3% at an annualized rate). The indirect effects of the strike (i.e., onto household consumption and the manufacturing sector, etc.) reveals that annualized GDP growth would have been around 2.2ppt higher at +1.6% q-q saar versus the headline 0.6% contraction (i.e., 1.3% due to direct effects and 0.9% due to indirect effects – (i.e., a ratio of 60/40). The current account deficit, the SARB estimates, would have been around 0.3ppt smaller than the 4.5% of GDP it registered in 1Q.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) represents 23 affiliated employer associations, representing 2,072 companies and employing around 200,000 workers. Comparing the damage done to the local mining sector from the recent PGM strike which had only around 70,000 members down tools over three companies’ operations, the negative impact of this strike could prove to be much more damaging.

A breakdown of SA’s gross value add by sector indicates a risk to around 40% of the production-side of the economy (mainly direct). Add to this the massive risks to the country’s export base (being conservative, we roughly estimate such a strike has the ability to hinder at least a quarter of SA’s total export receipts), and the strong linkages between the manufacturing and mining sectors (from an intermediate inputs standpoint), and the outlook for the real economy in the second half of the year has the potential to be very damaging. We continue to highlight the large downside risks to our current 1.9% 2014 GDP projection as a result.Furthermore, next week’s purported strike action in the metals and engineering sector in gross value add terms accounts for a much more sizable chunk of the local economy’s GDP composition than just the platinum industry.

Numsa 1 Numsa 2 Numsa 3 Numsa 4

 

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

Platinum strike finally over

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

Zuma sick and tired

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTES (with explanatory links):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SONA debate, Malema response, expulsion and EFF walkout

The fractious debate that followed …

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

Land expropriation, South African style

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

 

X Rated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

 

The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions

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

So what

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

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

 

Platinum Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

This statement is interesting precisely because it borders on the bizarre

So what

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

 

Concerns about property rights

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I am up to my neck in it, trying to tease out the main implications and trends of the election – in a way that might be useful to investors in our financial markets.

As part of the process I read everything I can find that has been written about the elections. I have just read the Sunday Independent to see what the journalists and columnists had to say and I came across something that I felt I needed to share; and social media granted me immediate gratification.

Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary of the SACP, wrote a column assessing the election under the title “No room for complacency for ANC and alliance partners”.

Cronin is always good value and worth reading and today he was especially feisty.

Opposition emerging to the left of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance is an important matter for anyone who has an interest in how South African politics will progress. And Cronin deals with this question as part of his election assessment.

Cronin’s tone reminds me of the sectarian and slightly Stalinist tendencies that I was very much part of throughout the 80’s … and I felt almost nostalgic when he characterised the threats from the left thusly:

Will a serious left challenge now come from outside the ANC alliance? It’s possible, but only if we in the ANC alliance are clumsy or arrogant. We need to distinguish the proto-fascist demagogy of Malema from the hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionism of Irvin Jim, from the ethnically-tinged vigilantism of the Amcu leadership, from the preachy capitalist philanthropy of Jay Naidoo and Mamphela Ramphele.

I wanted to follow that with a few exclamation marks. It’s funny and it has a certain poetic rolling cadence that left me smiling … for a few seconds.

Until I realised that the trick Cronin has pulled here is he has created a sort of ideological bestiary and placed within it every conceivable left critic of the ANC and the SACP.

If you are a left critic of the ANC, SACP, Cosatu alliance then you are either a  proto-fascist demagogue or a hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionist, or you might be an ethnically-tinged vigilante or even a preachy capitalist philanthropist. You certainly couldn’t be a principled socialist of some kind, because then you would be in the ANC/SACP /Cosatu. Dah!

“Clumsy or arrogant”?

The article is worth reading because it gives a mostly subtle and thoughtful assessment of the election from an insiders view, but is, as you can see from the excerpt, occasionally entertainingly clumsy and arrogant.

After fiddling around a bit, I found it at IOL.com. Read it, it is here.

(Note: please read Jonny Steinberg’s comments on my miscasting of the implications of the recent HSRC’s South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012. Jonny argues that I have taken “a story of resounding success and twisted it into a tale of alarm”. Jonny Steinberg is correct on all counts and I hope to redress my error  at some time in the near future. Catch his brief criticism and my initial mea culpa in the comments section here.)

 Before it gets too out of date, herewith my last week’s (Monday 14 April) news update … it’s worth it just for Ronnie Kasrils’s comments about Zuma.

  • Employment equity in South Africa is glacially slow and will continue to help drive regulatory and political uncertainty
  • A spoilt ballot campaign and some unusually forthright statements from ANC leaders about corruption in their party and government
  • Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters on

Employment equity – dead slow ahead

Last week the Commission for Employment Equity released its 14th Annual report (available here) indicating glacial progress in making workplaces more representative of the demographic profile of the South African Economically Active Population (EAP).

Below is an indicator of race and gender breakdown of the working population as a whole:

Politics1

Original Source: Statistics South Africa, (QLFS 3 2013)

In the report’s ‘Top Management’ category, the trend between 2003 and 2013 is strikingly poor:

Employment equity reports 2003 - 2013

Employment equity reports 2003 – 2013

(The report uses categories: Top Management, Senior Management, Professionally Qualified and Skilled. The Department of Labour begun collecting data on ‘foreign natlonals’ as a distinct fraction of the EAP from only 2006.)

The performance is best in the government sector, but this only slightly improves the overall picture:

Employment equity reports 2013

Employment equity reports 2013

There have been some improvements at the lower end (Skilled Technical):

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

However, not unsurprisingly, the Employment Equity Commission believes this is not good enough in itself, nor is it adequate compensation for failures elsewhere.

(The Commission is a statutory body that reports to the Department of Labour and operates within the aegis of Employment Equity Act, 1998 – amended by Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013.)

So what?

Poor performance by the private sector in reaching employment equity targets is a constant irritant to government and to the ‘designated groups’ (Africans, Coloureds, Indians, women and people with disabilities). Employers might argue that the administrative burden of the act is counter-productive and that the top employment categories require skills that are relatively scarce amongst the ‘designated groups’. However, the political consequence of the failure gradually adds to the risks in the operating environment.

Employment equity legislation in South Africa has, since 1998, tended not to concentrate on sanctions to enforce compliance. However it is apparent that government is gradually increasing the pressure. The Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013 increases fines for non-compliance – both with regard to reporting requirements and with regard to targets.

The African National Congress is increasingly challenged by radical populists (e.g., the EFF) and a militant left-wing (e.g., the incipient Numsa breakaway from Cosatu) which together argue that black South Africans have failed to adequately benefit from ‘liberation’. Part of the answer to this challenge from the ruling party is likely to be a rapid escalation of pressure around employment equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment.

There will be an increasing burden on all companies operating in the country and increased government hostility to defaulters. The ANC will not be tempted towards the nationalisation policy platforms of the emerging populist and leftist groups, but must find an answer that satisfies its constituency in the rapidly growing black middle class.

Spoiled ballot campaign

Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister, and long-time leader of the African National Congress, has embarked on a campaign with some other disaffected ANC members to call for a spoiled ballot in the May 7 election.

So what?

Nothing much, except that this is probably the tip of an iceberg of discontent in the African National Congress. Perhaps what is significant is that despite the emergence of the EFF and Numsa breakaways, and the apparent success of the DA campaign, many dissidents in the ANC still find themselves unable to follow a party other than the ANC.

Kasrils’s main problem with the ANC is what he perceives as a spread of serious corruption and abuse of public funds at a senior level in government and the party.

Obviously the strategic or tactical value of a spoiled ballot will be a matter of deep controversy.

(My own view is that Kasrils and his colleagues are well within their rights to propagate this option – it is, however, not an option I will be pursuing.)

Most interesting

What is most interesting is to read Kasrils’s comments about Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders in the interview with published in the City Press yesterday. I quote him here in-depth, because of how unusually explicit his mode of expression is and because I believe this view is representative of a significant group of ANC insiders, deeply unhappy with their party, but not yet ready to leave it:

People will tell you and it has been stated from people in exile and I can confirm – (that) he (Zuma) was a pretty simple guy. He wasn’t a person who was looking for fancy clothes and flash cars. He was pretty down to earth … I did see a certain ambition there by acquiring so many feminine relationships and wives and then children … (But Zuma has) changed very dramatically. Here is a man who comes back to South Africa and you can imagine how worried he must have been, how he was going to take care of this kind of menagerie … And then there are the people, capitalists, with money in their back pockets, who were looking at the new political power and pounced like vultures … There were some who were only too happy in the embrace because they did not have to worry about the wolf at the door, how they would have to pay the bills, how they were going to educate their kids, where they find a way to house their women … from then on, what happens to your fine principles of serving the people first and thinking of the key things that are necessary when you are now in league, and in bed, with people who become your sponsors? From that point of view, you change.

My view is that the people who now run the ANC, not every one of them, but there is an elite that has become incredibly corrupt that managed to take over – take power from Mbeki and kick him out and it’s just been downhill ever since with this system just rolling on like a snowball becoming larger and larger.

Ronnie Kasrils, City Press 13/04/2014

(Again, my personal views on whether Mbeki, Zuma or none-of-the-above are the root of all evil might differ somewhat from Kasrils’s but I think his plain speaking here is useful anyway.)

Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters briefly on

Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday last week was widely expected to be the close-to-final act in the trade union federation’s unravelling. However an ANC delegation led by Cyril Ramaphosa persuaded the Zuma loyalists as well the Zwelinzima Vavi-led faction to postpone a final showdown till after the elections. (Such a ‘final showdown’ is ostensibly about the suitability and prudence of the Vavi, but is actually about loyalty to Jacob Zuma to the ANC’s policy positions.)

So what

Again, it is interesting to note the interaction between fragmentation and momentum in the ruling alliance. The ideas and history (mythological or otherwise) that bind the members and supporters to the ANC make the split that is happening bizarrely protracted. However, there is no question that several splits in the ruling alliance are, in fact, in process. It is tactically important for Vavi and Numsa to hold on within Cosatu for as long as possible. Cosatu remains terrain which neither contestant feels ready to abandon to the other.

 

(Part of this is from a news update I published for the clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities on Monday – 07/04/2014. Thanks as always to them for allowing me to republish here a few days later. None of opinions expressed here are those of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities.)

  • Nigeria’s GDP rebasing is normal and welcome – for South Africans as well as foreign investors. Reading some of the media coverage, however, one might have thought a grave threat to South Africa’s sovereign interests had suddenly arisen somewhere in the north on Sunday morning
  • HIV infection rates are up and caution and prevention are down in South Africa – a more serious matter than how Nigeria estimates the size of its economy
  • Cosatu and Vavi’s brief reprise will both be threatened at this week’s Central Executive Committee meeting. The quicker and more fundamental the impending split, the better
  • Noisy nation – Nkandla is actually most relevant for the “screaming and shouting at the powers that be” and is a sign of rude health – John Carlin in City Press (06/04/2014)
  • South African’s irritating sense of ‘exceptionalism’

Nigeria’s rebased GDP sets off anxious (and defensive) flutters and finger wagging at SA from global and domestic media outfits

The issue that made the biggest media impact on the weekend happened on Sunday, too late for the main weeklies. Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s GDP for 2013 was 80.22 trillion naira (between $509.9 billion and $477.98 billion depending on what value you give to the naira) and not the 42.3 trillion naira previously estimated. Nigeria had last assessed the size of its economy in1990 and has long realised it needed to add previously uncounted industries like telecommunications, IT, banking, insurance, music, airlines, online retail and the vibrant Nollywood film industry.

So what?

Not unexpectedly the announcement set off a flood of global media commentary (and local hand-wringing and defensiveness) about the sad state of the South African economy, which prior to the announcement ‘had’ Africa’s largest GDP at about $353 billion.

The Wall Street Journal Online (06/04/2014) probably had the most representative coverage:

“Nigeria’s ascendance marks a validation for foreign companies diving into Africa’s riskier markets, where populations are young and growing fast.”

“For South Africa, losing its status as Africa’s top economy is more than a symbolic blow. Pretoria has used its position on the continent to argue for inclusion at the table of the world’s most powerful nations. It joined the G-20 in 1999 and the “Brics”—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—in 2010. It has also campaigned for a U.N. Security Council seat.”

The article discusses Nkandla and South Africa’s anaemic growth (and Eskom’s wet coal) but also points out that South Africa has the continent’s best infrastructure and that it produces 10 times more electricity than Nigeria for a population one third the size.

A more salient point came from several Al-Jazeera interviews with Nigerians, best summarised by Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives: “Is the money in your bank account more on Sunday than it was on Saturday? If you had no job yesterday, are you going to have a job today? If the answer  … is ‘no’, then this is an exercise in vanity.”

Equally, the myriad problems in the South African economy were no worse on Sunday than they were on Saturday. Will Nigeria’s rebasing create more urgency amongst South African policy makers? I doubt it.

HSRC update on HIV/AIDS in South Africa is concerning

The Human Sciences Research Council has released research that indicates that the proportion of South Africans infected with HIV has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2012 and that the total number of infected South Africans now stands at 6.4 million, 1.2 million more than in 2008.

The table below indicates HIV prevalence in females (a) and males (b) by age in South Africa in 2008 and in 2012 (South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012 – xxvi of the Executive Summary):

HIV

Provincially, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence (16.9%) and the Western Cape the lowest (5%). There were 469 000 new infections in the country in 2012.

So what?

HIV/AIDS was a significant area of risk associated with investing in South Africa in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and the disease radically lowered life expectancy in the country (from 62 years in 1990 to 50 years in 2007 – StatsSA). The impacts on consumption, the price of labour and pressures on social infrastructure were endlessly explored in research reports, also by this analyst.

There have been admirable increases in treatment levels (especially by government, but supported by non-governmental organisations) but significant declines in condom use and knowledge about the disease (particularly amongst young people) and recent increases in infection rates imply that the availability of treatment might be leading to complacency and a reversal of some of those gains. Watch this space.

Cosatu has a week of the long knives ahead – which is mostly a good thing

As it happens there was a considerable amount of drawing-back-from-the-edge this week raising interesting questions about the role of Ramaphosa and of Vavi … but I will explore that next week. Meanwhile here is the Monday comment, without retractions:

On Friday the South Gauteng High Court set aside Cosatu suspension of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on technical grounds. “While the CEC of Cosatu was authorised to suspend Vavi” said Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo, “it failed to comply with the constitution of Cosatu in that they did not vote whereas the constitution expressly called for a vote.”

This is obviously not a crushing victory in Vavi’s favour, but it does lay the grounds for some sort of final showdown at Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting that starts tomorrow morning. (It would be a relatively simple matter for the CEC to vote to suspend Vavi … and it might do this and add suspending or expelling Numsa into the bargain.)

So what?

Cosatu is fundamentally split between two broad factions.

One faction, centred around Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, oppose key elements of ANC economic policy on the grounds that the policy (particularly the NDP) is ‘pro-business’ and fails to adequately address the needs of workers and the poor. Further, this faction has expressed itself in very clear language against what it sees as the abuse of public resources for personal gain by key ANC and government leaders, including Jacob Zuma. This faction wants a formal Cosatu break with the ruling alliance and has hinted at its intention to establish a socialist workers party at some time in the future.

The other faction – essentially the incumbent Cosatu leadership including its president S’dumo Dlamini – is attempting to keep as much of Cosatu as possible within the alliance with the ANC and is, essentially, loyal to the incumbent leadership of the ANC.

The tensions that are expressed in this split have been present since Cosatu’s formation in Durban in 1986. The fact that the underlying political and ideological divisions are coming to a head now is not primarily because the ANC or government leadership is more corrupt that previously and certainly not because ANC economic policy is more pro-business than previously. The ANC and government’s adoption of the National Development Plan (as well as government’s promulgation of both the youth wage subsidy and Gauteng e-tolling, against Cosatu’s explicit and bitter opposition) has forced the underlying division into the light but the division was eventually going to be exposed anyway, as the sentimental glue of ‘the struggle’ gradually dissolved through exposure to the (famous) ‘ravages of time’ and the accumulation of normal, difficult, choices all governments must make between ‘national’ as opposed to ‘sectional’ interests.

(Gosh, that is a long sentence – Ed)

The bright light that Vavi and Numsa shine on corruption is welcome (but not untainted by other political considerations) and a healthy part of our democracy. This faction heading into the wilderness to set up a ‘left’ or socialist party would also be an expression of maturity – as well as a welcome release of the ANC from the tiresome shackles of its increasing anachronistic alliance with a trade union federation.

Nkandla in perspective

The Sunday papers are invariably a tiresome chore to read with only a handful of articles making it worth the effort. This week John Carlin (best known for his excellent writing about politics and soccer) dealt with the Nkandla scandal in a manner that brought some blessed relief.

In an article entitled “Noisy Nation” he delightfully describes the health of the South African democracy thusly: “The amount of screaming, shouting and booing at the powers that be, the furious debates between political parties and old and new trade unions, the daily revelations in the press, the hyperventilating opinion columns: it is all music to the ears, a sign of political health – just as a new born baby’s screaming is a sign of physical health.”

Among the welcome reminders he brings is that South Africa is a new democracy with regard to peer comparisons and that freedom of expression and levels of public debate compare very favourably:

“At 20 years old, it (South Africa) has barely emerged from adolescence and is still seeking its identity, finding its bearings in the world. The parents, by which I mean (stretching the metaphor a bit) successive ANC governments, are not a model of maturity themselves, but they have had the wisdom and moral coherence not to do as governments have done in other countries that arrived at democracy at roughly the same time, such as Russia. They have not locked up political opponents or murdered overinquisitive members of the press.”

Well, not yet and not that we know of, but the point is well made and well taken.

An aside on our irritating exceptionalism

(Not published as part of the original note.)

In addition to the wonderful ‘noisy, healthy nation’ point, Carlin takes a carefully balanced and nuanced shot at South Africans’s tendency to believe both that we are uniquely victimised by a history and that we were miraculously saved by rare and unusually heroic individuals.

I would much prefer you to read the whole of Carlin’s article as it appears on City Press’s website – here is a link – but for those who are unable to do this I am going to take the liberty of publishing the introductory paragraphs to the article – so that some of Carlin’s nuances are preserved:

A South African lawyer was in New York in the late 1980s to deliver a paper on apartheid’s crimes.

Before his turn came, he heard speakers from Latin America tell their tales of horror and realised, with a sinking feeling, that he could not compete.

The man from Argentina spoke about the torture and disappearance of 15 000 people, most of them grabbed from their homes.

The one from El Salvador spoke about the 30 000 killed by the state death squads at the rate of 1 000 a month.

Worst of all, the one from Guatemala shared similarly prolific rates of assassination, plus army units that routinely burnt entire villages to the ground.

Yes, in South Africa you had death squads killings, but not on an industrial scale.

Yes, when I arrived in South Africa in 1989 you had some 30 000 activists detained without charge.

But as I pointed out to the lawyer, in El Salvador those 30 000 would have been dead.

As for Nelson Mandela, the notion that his equivalent in Guatemala would have been tried in court and then spared the hangman’s noose was, in a grim sort of way, laughable.

I knew about these things. I had spent from 1979 to 1989 in South and Central America.

By contrast, South Africa’s political climate struck me as mild; the space for political expression, relatively free.

From the day I arrived in South Africa, I never came across a black person afraid to express his or her view.

I am not being frivolous about the suffering black South Africans endured under apartheid.

It was, as Mandela once said, “a moral genocide”, an attempt to systematically exterminate an entire people’s self-respect.

It was also a brazen affirmative action programme for white people, the inevitable downside of which was that those born with darker skins were condemned to lives deprived of economic opportunity.

It was uniquely evil. Well, almost.

In Guatemala, the 75% of the population who were of Mayan origin, were treated with at least equal contempt by the rich and powerful, who then dispatched battalions of Eugene de Kocks to terrorise them into submission.

I was struck in a similar way when I visit Serbia some time ago. This is what I said, also about South African ‘exeptionalism’, at the time (here for the original post)

It (the suffering in the region) started with the Celts invading  the “Paleo-Balkan tribes” … who in their turn were replaced by an endless Roman occupation; sacked by Attila the Hun in 442 and then one thousand five hundred years of bloody, impossible to follow conquest, resistance, sacking, rapine, pillage … I could go on and on … (and you do – Ed.)

And of course, that is only before the First World War, and as you know all the important stuff happened since then.

I know our African and South African histories are important and it is appropriate that we wrestle as long as it takes – which will be forever, obviously – with the ongoing consequences of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

But being here does tempt me to wish my countrymen and women had a slightly less myopic view of our own trials and tribulations.  I read this morning that Belgrade is trying to scrape together the finances to build a memorial to Judenlager Semlin, the largest German-run concentration camp in Southeast Europe where in May 1942 the Nazi’s proudly announced one of their first major European campaign successes: Serbia was “Judenfrei”. The men had been executed earlier, but the last 7000 Jewish women and children were killed in the camp in the first few months of 1942.

By May Serbia was Judenfrei.

And this is not a The Holocaust trumps all kind of statement – I just mention it  in the context of the previous 2000 years of European history.

The Germans might have achieved a unique scale with their technological and organisational excellence, but the great rivers of cruelty and tears are old, deep and cold here, and they flow through every valley of this geography – and not only to and from the mighty lake that was The Holocaust.

At an earlier time I discussed our (equally irritating) ‘leadership exceptionalism’ (here for original post) where I said:

… this country has developed a habit, possibly a mythology, of what I term “leadership exceptionalism”. In short this refers to the belief, erroneous or otherwise, that South Africa has achieved an unlikely stability primarily through the exceptional quality of leaders throughout the society – including on both sides of the Apartheid fence and in the churches, trade unions and business.

It’s the 1st of April and I have already seen that Helen Zille has accepted an ‘elecnomination‘  to spend two weeks living in Khayelitsha, surviving on the minimum wage and using a bucket toilet. Good for her, I say.

In other news the DA has announced that the Western Cape government it is going to upgrade Zille’s private residence in Cape Town. They plan to spend R20 million, but have wisely put aside  R246 million in case of overruns. Nothing wrong with that … as we have seen elsewhere.

In entirely unrelated news the Sunday Independent carried a story about some polling apparently undertaken by the legendary Stan Greenberg on behalf of the DA.

Just as an aside: the headline in the Sunday Indepent calls Greenberg the “De Niro of politics”.

This is a picture of Stan Greenberg:

StanGreenberg

This is a picture of Robert De Niro:

de niro

Oh yes, now I get it. They are both white men, over a certain age …. (oh leave it alone! It’s not important, why don’t you just let it go? And anyway maybe there is a joke here you just don’t get – Ed)

Hmm, okay, sorry …

The DA polling was something of an antidote to an Ipsos poll commissioned by the Sunday Times and published a week earlier.

First the antidote from Stan, the DA and their various minions:

pollsPoilin

 

Then the Sunday Times Ipsos poll published March 22:

IpsosSundayTImes

 

I am not, actually, saying treat this sort of thing with the same caution as you would treat an April Fool’s story. Both the pollsters have defensible and explicable methodologies … but clearly they can’t both be right.

In general I treat the polling with a degree of caution. Results are often leaked or announced with the intention of impacting on the final outcomes (by, for example, scaring voters and supporters into getting out to the voting booths or by bolstering the flagging energies of party workers).

I have used, as a sort of deductive shorthand, a ‘below 60 percent’ versus an ‘above 60 percent’ for the ANC as an indicator of a ‘danger zone’ for Jacob Zuma.

Instinctively I think the ANC will lose votes because of the leader’s breathtakingly cavalier attitude to public money and resources. The alternative would be for me to believe things about the average South African voter that I would feel uncomfortable about admitting in public. The average ANC member voted for Jacob Zuma as president of the party at both Polokwane and Mangaung … so there is nothing I need to say about that.

So … as part of my weekly review of SA politics yesterday morning I tried to collate some of the responses to the Nkandla Report with the specific intention of using these as an heuristic tool  to gain some deeper insight into what is going on.

That’s just a fancy way of saying that when I am unsure of what is going on then I look around at the responses of people I suspect do know what is happening and try and extrapolate from that a greater level of insight i.e. I am using the responses as a heuristic tool … although as you will see in the link ‘heuristic’ means more than just an investigative short cut.  It didn’t achieve what I hoped, but here are my truncated efforts anyway:

Responses to the Public Protector’s Nkandla Report reveal much, but not enough

Responses to Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, ruling that President Jacob Zuma and his family directly benefited from the improper use of state funds in the (approximately R230m) upgrade to his (Jacob Zuma’s) Nkandla homestead and that he “failed to act in protection of state resources” are flooding in from all directions.

Obviously all the major opposition parties are using the report to attack the ANC and Zuma – and are generally deifying the Public Protector. However, the diverging responses from within the broad membership and leadership of the ruling African National Congress are the most relevant and interesting.

The party itself (and the SACP and the formal structures of the divided Cosatu) are essentially defending the President and/or attacking Madonsela (or the manner in which her report was delivered).

Several news media have attempted to list the number of ANC leaders and widely respected ‘liberation heroes’ who have in some way expressed both support for the integrity of the Public Protector and support for her findings. The list has included previous President Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (although her problems were primarily with the sexist language of some of the criticism … and up till now I have seen her as something of a Zuma loyalist, so I will have to do some homework on this one), ex-minister Pallo Jordan, ex-minister Ronnie Kasrils and a host of other individuals (e.g. Ben Turok and Marion Sparg) and particular branches of the party and parts of individual unions of trade union federation ally Cosatu which have in some way defended the Public Protector and supported her findings.

So what?

‘Nkandla’ is, on the face of it, small change compared to myriad similar scandals surrounding the President.[1] The difference in this case is a ‘Chapter 9 institution’ (an institution established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic”) has made findings that essentially allege that Jacob Zuma has improperly benefited from state spending and that while there is no proof that he engineered this outcome, he had a responsibility, according to the Public Protector, to be aware that it was happening. These might be ugly, but not exactly impeachable offences – unless you believe they are purely the tip of a much larger iceberg hidden through luck, trickery and a good legal strategy.

There are so many issues that this raises, but I will mention only 3:

Firstly, does the ANC lose votes because of this? More precisely: does the release of the report just over a month before the election lose the ANC more votes than it would have lost anyway as a result of its president’s … how should I put this … now very widespread reputation for poor judgement with regard to his private financial affairs?  I would guess ‘yes’.

I have no doubt that there are vast groups of voters who see Madonsela’s report as just another attack on their candidate and who will be completely unmoved by the details. I also suspect that there is a large group that despise the ANC leadership choices but will stick with the party in the belief that it will self-correct sometime soon. However, there are obviously those for whom Madonsela’s report is the proverbial straw – but I suspect this is a marginal group. If the margin is between 60% and 59% then Madonsela’s report could make an important difference. If it is between 63% and 64% then, voting wise on May 7, it is not going to make much difference.

Secondly, the ANC has benefited from occupying the high-ground of moral authority. Whatever its failings it was always the party of national liberation, the party of Nelson Mandela, the party that embodied the majority of black South Africans’ struggle for self-determination and against apartheid – unimpeachable and morally irresistibly aspirations and goals. The voices of disquiet from within the party are beginning to suggest that this objective or record has been redeployed in a baser struggle.

Listen carefully to the coded and heavily portentous words of Thabo Mbeki talking at the 20th anniversary of Wiphold at Sun City on March 22 2014:

 “Regrettably, today, a mere 20 years after our liberation, it is obvious that many in our society have forgotten or are oblivious of the human cost our freedom entailed.  Accordingly, these abuse the gift of our liberation to abuse our precious freedom to do things for themselves whose only objective is personal aggrandisement – thus to use their access to state, corporate and social power radically and systemically to subvert the required sustained and speedy advance we need towards the realisation of the objective of a better life for all our people.”

The Public Protector’s report is reverberating through the ANC (see key ANC intellectual and former cabinet minister Pallo Jordan’s column in the Business Day for another example) and forcing many of the ‘old guard’ to take a public stand. In almost all cases the criticism is unspecific and is being made by people who no longer occupy key positions in the party or state. However, there is a cumulative loss by those who hold central power in the ANC of moral authority. Without moral authority, hegemony must be won with patronage, manipulation, blackmail and force. The ANC is still close enough to its ‘liberation roots’ for such a changing of the guard to cause serious, even dramatic, ructions amongst the party faithful.

Finally, Jacob Zuma has been (significantly) responsible for growing ANC electoral support in Kwazulu-Natal from 33.33% in 1994 to 63.97% in 2009. The province has a population of 10 456 900 people (second to Gauteng which has 12 728 400 according to the 2011 census). Kwazulu-Natal is now a key ANC stronghold and the only province where the party’s electoral support grew during the 2011 municipal elections. More than a quarter of the party’s total membership comes from the province. “On Friday, thousands of ANC supporters wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hands off Zuma’ marched in Port Shepstone on the south coast … after eThekwini did so earlier this month” – (City Press 30/03/2014). If, as we suspect, Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle and probity issues are losing the ANC a degree of support in many, especially urban, areas of the country but that his personal support is continuing to grow amongst isiZulu speakers in rural Kwazulu-Natal, the party will face the further corroding influences of regionalisation and tribalism. My suspicion is Zuma’s vote pulling power in Kwazulu-Natal peaked in 2011, but only May 7 will put that to rest one way or another.

[1]Jacob Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik was sentenced to two 15 year terms in prison after he was found ‘guilty of corruption for paying Zuma 1.2 million Rand (US$185,000) to further their relationship and for soliciting a bribe from the French arms company Thomson-CSF, as well as guilty of fraud for writing off more than R1 million (US$154,000) of Zuma’s unpaid debts” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schabir_Shaik_trial accessed on 30/03/2014 at 21h17 CAT

 

 

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

“How seriously to take the EFF is becoming the question of the year for a view on South African political risk”

As I listened to Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech I thought I would share with you an extract of my news commentary from Monday morning.

But I forgot to hit ‘publish’ as I was being torn between being slightly underwhelmed and moderately admiring that Gordhan could make so few populist concessions this close to May 7.

Thus, the EFF  and DA manifesto launches:

  • The Economic Freedom Fighters and The Democratic Alliance both launched their manifestos this weekend
  • The EFF will likely out-perform and its policies are the ‘sum of all fears’ for investors in emerging markets
  • In the longer term, however, the ANC is set free to pursue more growth orientated, investor friendly policies – and success or failure in this regard is the key question about South Africa’s future
  • The Democratic Alliance also launched its manifesto and is rapidly shifting its demographic appeal
  • By 2019 we could have a Goldilocks scenario where the ANC and the DA comfortably occupy the middle ground of South African politics, keeping at bay both the left and right-wing, and pursuing economic growth. Other scenarios are both possible and plausible, but I thought I would, just this once, hope for the best

EFF – radical left-wing populism of old (and marketing genius)

The EFF packed out the Mehlareng Stadium in Tembisa in Gauteng and launched a radical populist manifesto with great aplomb. Ambitious plans announced included free education up to tertiary level for all and double social grants paid for with the proceeds from nationalising 60% of the mines and banks. The party will build a state pharmaceutical company to produce medicines, scrap the tender system, ban the use of consultants while increasing civil servant salaries by 50% and it will subsidise the taxi industry and provide housing finance for middle-income earners. Mineworkers will take home a minimum wage of R12500.00 a month (undoubtedly designed to chime with current Amcu platinum sector strike) and other minimum wages would vary from R4500.00 for waiters and waitresses to R7500.00 for private security guards.

Yeah, right.

To get a sense of the scripting and impact of the launch here is Ranjeni Munusamy of The Daily Maverick describing the Marikana widows on the platform: “To make the point about the treachery of the ANC government, Malema had invited as his special guests the widows of the Marikana massacre, all clad in EFF t-shirts. They sang and spoke of the hardship, their heartbreak and the betrayal they feel at the ANC government killing their husbands on behalf of capital.”

So what?

The EFF is becoming the big story of this election. Previously in SA politics the ANC managed to encompass within itself the full spectrum of liberation ideologies including this radical populism. The expulsion of Julius Malema (paralleled by the pushing of Numsa out of the ruling alliance) has left the radical populists on the outside and unconstrained by previous alliances and loyalties.

The ANC ran a counter rally/concert aimed at a youthful audience not far from the EFF manifesto launch. While that concert/rally was well attended and festive, it didn’t appear to detract from the EFF launch. All it really indicated was that the ANC is taking the EFF threat seriously.

How seriously to take the EFF is becoming the question of the year for a view on South African political risk. The EFF is articulating the set of demands and occupying the political space that has always been of concern to investors in South Africa – characterised as it is by chronic unemployment, poverty and inequality with the racial underpinnings of apartheid. Previously markets had become convinced that the ANC by its size and reach and general authority, was able to mediate between the different and competing demands of the transition.

However, it is now clear that the ANC has either been forced to abandon the terrain of the radical populists and ultra-left and expel those factions – or it has chosen to do so for its own strategic objectives.

On the one hand this sets the ANC and government free to develop policy without the straitjacket that came from clinging to the populists and leftists. On the other, those groups are now free to compete for votes and the ANC is vulnerable to electoral shrinkage.

The EFF will undoubtedly grow, but the question for me is: ‘can the ANC, in the longer-term, now find policies to grow the economy that will allow it to regain ground in the 2019 election that it is likely to lose in the 2014 election?’

Meanwhile I think the EFF will do better in this election than expected …. and I am moving my expectation for its electoral performance up from 8% to 10% (a thumb suck, rough guide, purely for me to keep track) of the total vote on May 7th. I do, however, think that once the EFF gets to parliament the unworkability of its policies and the manipulations inherent in its campaigning will inevitably be exposed. Over the longer term it could be under pressure to hold onto its parliamentarians and its voters, especially if the ANC is pushed by the pressures from left and right into a process of internal renewal … and especially if the Cosatu unravelling results in a real labour/left party.

The Democratic Alliance

The Democratic Alliance also launched its manifesto this weekend – on Sunday in Polokwane in Limpopo Province. The launch was well attended – with an almost exclusively black audience, a feature which puzzled many commentators (but not you?- ed)

The party was at pains not to attack the pre-Zuma led ANC with Helen Zille saying of the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference ‘(t)hat was the moment when a great political movement lost its sense of direction. It was hijacked by leaders who care more about themselves than the people they are meant to serve … (the) good story ended in 2007.’

The economic aspects of the election platform emphasised job creation: ‘The manifesto we release today is a ‘manifesto for jobs’… Job creation is only possible if we cut corruption’.

The manifesto is worth reading and pushes all the right buttons balancing state encouraged redress with laying the conditions for private sector led growth. Catch Helen Zille’s speech, which is a useful summary of the manifesto, here.

So what

The DA appears to be on top of its game and performing optimally, given the limitations imposed by its origins as a largely white party. The ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial’ character of the DA is clearly in transition, with Helen Zille the only white person who took the stage and the cameras covering the launch having to search long and hard for the few white faces in the audience. These contortions are going to be difficult.

The DA has clearly decided to appeal directly to defecting ANC voters and much of the tone and approach was structured with this in mind – including being respectful of the pre-Zuma ANC history. However it is my impression that defecting ANC voters are (mostly) going to abstain from voting or will vote EFF (and maybe UDM/COPE leftovers). I think that while the DA might get a portion of these votes the ‘racialisation’ of our politics means it is too early for the DA to capture enough black votes to shake the ANC.

However, I think the political realignment’s now taking place could mean that it will be the ANC and the DA that occupy the middle ground of South African politics by 2019, a scenario that has many more positive than negative features. (I wrote that line on Monday morning. I am not sure I agree with it still. Nothing has changed except my mind.)

In passing I should note the strong convergence of two features of both the DA and the EFF. They have both identified Jacob Zuma as the key individual responsible for the ANC’s and the country’s failures. True or not, fair or unfair, the ANC must be under pressure to find ways of shifting this president into the side-lines – which is, in my opinion, one of the features necessary for the emergence of a process of renewal in the ANC.

I have been agonising over whether to keep this website going –  or to consign it to the wastelands of the interwebs there to wander mournfully, accumulating lurid advertisements for secret ways of getting rid of belly fat and invitations from young, beautiful and lonely people, in your area, waiting by their phones for a call from you.

After weighing matters too arcane to bore you with here I decided to gird my sagging loins (that’s long and loose clothing, not that other thing you were thinking – Ed) and once more into the breach … and all of that.

So … I have written various 2014 previews. One you may have seen was for the Mail & Guardian and titled ‘What I will be telling investors in 2014′. I would have liked to give it a better edit – and I think I don’t adequately deal with the issue of the corroding effects of the original arms scandal – but you may be interested in reading it anyway. Catch it here.

I also published in early January, as part of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities’ 2014 Outlook, the overview below. (Thanks, as always, to my main contract holder for generously allowing me to republish a few weeks later here.)

(Remember, no-one has been to the future and returned with any useful information as far as I am aware … so treat the following with a healthy degree of scepticism – Ed)

Political outlook 2014: No safe haven in the storm

Introduction

At least part of our sanguine view of South African politics has rested on the belief that the ANC had several more decades of 60%-plus support at the polls. We were of the view that while this could lead to corruption, complaisance and cronyism, it would also allow the party to keep the country, government and constitution steady while SA undertook a wrenching transformation from its apartheid past to whatever the future held.

However, several important fissures have appeared in the ANC’s support base that suggest this assumption of indefinite ruling party dominance may not be correct and, therefore, that the essentially benign shepherding of that transition is under strain.

Amcu: bridgehead in previously safe African working-class constituency

Firstly, the success of the Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) in the mining (particularly platinum) sector has led to the virtual collapse of a key ANC labour ally, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num). Amcu is important for a number of reasons, but in this section, the issue is that it has created a bridgehead in the ANC’s core constituency that has every possibility of linking up with new left-wing (or in other ways radical) political formations that will challenge the ANC politically in the next few years.

Julius Malema and the formation of the EFF

Secondly, the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC and his formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party damages the ANC in two important ways. It draws disaffected young black South Africans, who are experiencing unemployment rates of about 60%, out of the ANC. And it captures ideological terrain that the ANC was previously able to control and finesse, namely, the question of the nationalisation of mines and land.

A strong and confident ANC has, since 1994, essentially been able to tell its electoral constituency that patience is required for transformation and that constituency has, with mutterings, accepted the ANC’s moral authority on the matter. However, that consensus is collapsing. Mr Malema’s ‘red berets’ are attacking the president at every opportunity and arguing that the ANC has sold out the birth-right of Africans and has been bought off by the opportunity to loot the state and by juicy empowerment deals. The message has a natural resonance among poor urban and unemployed youth – but up until Mr Malema’s expulsion, the ANC was able to articulate both sides of this debate within itself.

NUMSA split: The unravelling of the ruling alliance

Thirdly, it appears that the long-standing split within Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) over its relationship with the ANC has been forced to a head by the suspension of Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. A ‘left’ faction had, with a degree of discomfort, existed within Cosatu since the formation of the union federation in 1985. This faction has its roots in non-ANC liberation traditions and was concentrated mostly in Cosatu manufacturing unions, especially Numsa. The moves to get rid of Mr Vavi and close down Numsa’s criticism of the president and of ANC economic policy probably emanate from the hegemonic faction within the ANC itself, in other words, Jacob Zuma and his closest allies. Not unsurprisingly, Numsa has now formally called on Cosatu to leave the alliance with the ANC, has said it will not be supporting the ANC in the election in 2014 and has called for the immediate resignation of President Zuma.

Over time, this will impact ANC electoral support, though not necessarily profoundly in 2014. How Numsa members and their dependants vote in next year’s election was probably a ‘done deal’ prior to Numsa’s defection decision at its special congress in late December 2013. Numsa may link up with ‘left’ or ‘workers’ parties (and may actually form a ‘socialist party’ that could challenge the ANC for support in the ANC’s key black working-class constituency), but this will likely impact more profoundly on electoral outcomes in the 2019 election.

ANC swelling in rural conservative areas and shrinking amongst urban sophisticates

Fourthly, the patronage and diversion of state resources as depicted by the Nkandla saga, combined with the vigorous pursuit of the rural vote in Kwazulu-Natal, has meant that the ANC is gradually appealing less to urban Africans (although this is by no means a majority trend) and more to rural and traditional poor black South Africans. This appears to mean that parties like the Democratic Alliance, AgangSA and the EFF are picking up a degree of unexpected traction in such constituencies.

Labour environment

After a catastrophic 2012 as far as the labour environment was concerned – especially the repeated waves of illegal and violent strikes in the platinum sector – 2013 saw stabilisation, albeit at still unacceptably high levels of unrest and strike activity.

In the platinum sector, the Amcu is ‘bedding down’, but likely to continue contesting with the Num in the gold sector. The next public-sector wage round is scheduled for 2015, so we have a breather before that storm hits (and we expected it to be a big storm when it does).

The formalisation of the Numsa split from the alliance probably means that this union will begin to actively contest with the Cosatu unions and in several other sectors of the economy. We are looking for the formation of new and smaller unions in sectors where the incumbent unions have grown too cumbersome or complacent to deal with the demands of specialist groups of workers. Unionism is a growth industry in South Africa, with annuity income for those who set them up. As Cosatu shudders, there are many opportunities emerging.

Labour unrest, poor labour productivity and inflexible labour markets (price, size, skills) are among the biggest negative domestic drivers of economic growth and we expect the figures to show a slight improvement in 2013 over 2012 and a significant deterioration in 2014 and 2015 – which may have significant negative implications along the lines of the BMW ‘disinvestment’ decision.

National Development Plan: The political rise of the Treasury and fall of Cosatu

The ruling party and the ruling alliance’s approach to the National Development Plan (NDP) has appeared highly conflicted since the adoption of the plan at the 2012 Mangaung national conference of the ANC.

While our view is that the NDP is little more than a shopping list (and not the miracle cure some ratings and multilateral agencies hope it is) in the areas of large infrastructure roll-out and a disciplining/training/focusing of the public service, we may be in for upside surprises. The important political leaders to watch here are ministers Lindiwe Sisulu (public service and administration) and Malusi Gigaba (state-owned enterprises).

In several different ways, the Zuma leadership of the ANC has, over the last few months, appeared to back with a degree of fortitude previously orphaned policy thrusts from the NDP that are generally ‘financial-market positive’.

The first of these is the foregrounding of the NDP itself – both at Mangaung, but also in the medium-term budget statement in October 2013. Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan stated that that this budget statement and all future budget statements would be ‘the accounts’ of the National Development Plan, putting the plan at the centre of government policy.

The trade-union movement – especially the now defecting faction rooted in Numsa, but actually common to the whole federation – was outraged by this, as it sees the NDP as a capitulation by the ANC to (variously) ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘business interests’.

In conjunction with this foregrounding of the NDP, Jacob Zuma has recently signed into law two major policy thrusts that are bitterly opposed by the ANC’s labour ally.

The first of these is the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act, which allows for the implementation of ‘e-tolling’ on Gauteng highways and has been bitterly opposed by COSATU and other community groups in that province. Bond-market investors and ratings agencies have repeatedly said it is crucial that the ANC implement ‘e-tolling’ if the government is to maintain credibility on the global capital markets. It is significant that the Zuma administration has grasped this nettle, despite facing (by all accounts) a significant electoral challenge in Gauteng in 2014.

The second surprising nettle-grasping activity has been the promulgation of the employment tax incentive bill in the face of united Coatu fury. This is the ‘youth wage subsidy’ of yore, and the ANC under Jacob Zuma has obviously decided to accept thunderous criticism from its ally in the hope that longer-term employment growth benefits will weigh in its favour at the polls, in both 2014 and 2019.

Together, these initiatives are surprising positives and have probably come about because the Treasury has managed to persuade Mr Zuma and his cabinet that failure to take a stand on these various measures could lead to downgrades by the ratings agencies.

Policy and regulatory risks predominate

Thus, our view is that the Presidency, bereft of any real policy direction itself (because it is busy purely with rent seeking and hanging onto power) has been persuaded by Pravin Gordhan that the country is in trouble, that the deficit is looking genuinely threatening, that downgrades are a real possibility and that if this goes south, President Zuma might go with it. The National Treasury briefly has the reins, and this gives us a moment of respite.

However, hostile mining regulations, a fiddly and interventionist Department of Trade and Industry, an overly ambitious Department of Economic Development, a hostile Department of Labour, liquor legislation, more and tighter empowerment legislation and deepening regulations on all fronts, but especially in the credit markets, mean that, on the whole, government in 2014 will be an unreliable financial-market ally.

State finances: The deeper risks are fiscal

The country’s increasing dependence for stability on social grants and other forms of social spending is a real and deepening political risk. While the social grant system has lifted millions of South Africans out of poverty and the public sector has employed hundreds of thousands of others, it has also created a culture of dependency and paternalism and is an unsustainable expense that the government will at some stage be forced to reduce. This is definitely going to be accompanied by severe social turmoil, although as mentioned previously, the real ‘fiscal cliff’ is still some way ahead of the forecast period dealt with in this report.

Election 2014

The election results will be important, but in ways that are difficult to predict.

If the ANC’s share of the national vote plummets to the low 50% range, will this force the party into a process of renewal, or will it be panicked into populist measures? It probably depends on which parties take up the slack.

If the ANC gets 65% of the vote, will it be ‘Nkandla business’ as usual – an unhealthy rural populism à la the Traditional Courts Bill, combined with activities like the significant public resources (ZAR208m) spent on building the president’s Nkandla compound and accusations of corruption?
If Mr Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters get 10% of the vote, will that mean ANC policymaking is paralysed until 2019 as the party attempts to appease the angry and disenfranchised youth? Will it mean legislation relating to mining and land ownership swerves into uncertain and dangerous territory?

If the Democratic Alliance wins 27% of the national vote (which we think unlikely) and if it is able to form a provincial government in alliance with other parties in Gauteng (which we also think unlikely), how might that cause the ANC to behave? Better? To continue to allow the Treasury to set the tone of probity and effectiveness, concentrate on fixing education and focus on economic growth as the only guarantor of electoral success in 2019? Will this kind of threat cause the ruling party to attempt to make opposition strongholds ungovernable? We suspect different impulses are already at war within the ANC and investors should watch how that battle plays out.

Below, purely as a way of presenting our latest ‘guesstimates’, are our ‘most likely’ electoral outcomes for 2014 (these may change as campaigning performance changes before the election and as various crises emerge, eg, the booing of Jacob Zuma at the FNB Stadium commemoration for Nelson Mandela in December 2013).

votingresultsinpreview

BRICs and the uncertain rise of the SACP

A relatively new and difficult-to-unpick issue is the growing confidence the South African Communist Party (SACP) has in shaping the national agenda. The inappropriate focus on BRICS speakers at the FNB Mandela memorial (over Africans and European Union speakers, with Obama the inevitable exception) is probably evidence of the Communists having very significant influence.

We think this could have fed through into the announced Zuma/Putin ZAR 100bn nuclear deal.

This is a matter of growing tension within the ANC, with a previously dominant (under Mandela and Mbeki) group of ‘progressive Africanists’ having lost power to the Communists, who are now in an alliance with a patronage-seeking, provincial elite with strong links to state-security apparatuses and rent-seeking business interests (‘the Nkandla crew’.)

This struggle could play into succession issues and might be a driver of attempts to impeach Jacob Zuma (a strategy unlikely to succeed, in our view) over the next few years.

Succession and a ‘rescue mission’ in the ANC?

While this matter probably lies beyond the 2014 scope of this report, within the ANC, the possibility of a rescue mission is taking shape (driven, in part, by growing commentary about how many public resources are ending up on and around Jacob Zuma’s person and his tight control of security agencies). A group now on the outskirts of the party, and in very general terms representing the ‘old guard’, appears set to begin working on securing a succession process that reverses the decline (moral and in popularity) over which Jacob Zuma appears to be presiding.

This move has not yet taken shape, nor is it properly manifest, but in our view the important people to watch are previous President Thabo Mbeki, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.

Herewith some comments on the latest political news. Apologies that I have posted so seldom here of late. I see a New Year’s resolution coming on. I see a New Year’s resolution exiting stage left.

Numsa, Cosatu and the SACP … and Jacob Zuma

During this past week the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) shifted closer to exiting the ruling alliance (and possibly Cosatu). The matter will be decided at a special Numsa congress from 13-16 December.

Meanwhile several distinct forces entered the fray.

Gwede Mantashe, the powerful ANC secretary general, argued that if pursuing Zwelinzima Vavi split Cosatu, then that strategy should be reconsidered. His general approach was supported by the President of the National Union of Mineworkers Senzeni Zokwana calling for sober heads and for the two main factions in Cosatu to ‘swallow their pride and solve their ideological and political differences’ (Business Day 3/12/13)

In complete contrast to this attempt to mend fences, Blade Nzimande, wearing his South African Communist Party secretary general’s cap on Sunday attacked the Numsa leadership, using strong and unbending language saying a “clique” within the union is manipulating rank and file members for  personal gain and should account for their personal wealth … that Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and deputy general secretary Karl Cloete should submit themselves to independent lifestyle audits and that Mr Jim should explain his role in chairing the Eastern Cape tender board and should come clean on the work of the union’s investment arm.” (News24 02/12/13)

The Numsa leadership meanwhile continued with its formulation of a detailed criticism of the ANC performance in government – only parts of which have been announced – but will form part of the discussion about whether to stay in Cosatu and in the alliance at the special congress in mid-December.

The Eastern Cape provincial executive committee of Cosatu (PEC) has strongly criticised the Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini for failing to arrange the special Cosatu conference designed to address all the issues bedevilling the federation, including the suspension of Vavi and the relationship with the ANC. The Eastern Cape PEC was also strongly critical of the Communist Party’s attack on the Numsa leadership.

So what?

This is not only the untidy squabble it appears.

Jacob Zuma came to power backed by the SACP, by Cosatu, by the ANCYL, by disparate regional power-blocks and business groups who saw an opportunity to get the benefits of being at the high table, and by democrats within the ANC who believed Mbeki had become authoritarian and/or unresponsive to the changing requirements of the situation (with his failure to grapple with the HIV/AIDs question his most obvious failing.)

This alliance of interests and groups has long since fragmented (with the trajectories of Malema and Vavi the most visible signs of this), but the SACP remains up close and personal with Zuma, his family, his business friends and the security agencies he keeps firmly under his wing. That it is the SACP who has said: ‘let’s chase these Numsa fellows out’ is not a surprise, as the SACP is one of the main beneficiaries of the rise of Jacob Zuma … an attack on Zuma is an attack on the SACP.

(My implicit assumption, which might be wrong, is that the SACP probably has some socialist explanation or justification for what it is doing in bed with Zuma. However I must confess I cannot imagine a version of politics in which the struggle for socialism is best served by allying oneself with a corrupt, regional elite – with ethnic overtones – that makes free use of the state security apparatuses to secure its dominance. If you lie down with dogs you should expect to get fleas.)

Thus, the SACP appears to be pushing for radical intrusive surgery on Cosatu and Numsa. They hope to cut out the cancer and, supposedly, slowly repair the healthy body left-behind.

The most obvious dangers are inherent in the metaphor: namely that the cure could kill the patient. But the bigger danger is that what the SACP, and the faction within the ANC that backs the radical surgery option have, perhaps wilfully, mistaken ‘democratic criticism’ (albeit of a damning sort) for cancer. This was precisely the warning that Mantashe and Zokwana were giving when they were brutally cut short by Blade Nzimande wielding a meat-cleaver.

So Nzimande and the communists have an agenda tied much more closely to the narrow version of the Nkandla Crew (that nexus of commercial interests, regional Kwazulu-Natal politics, state-security agencies and crime intelligence that are all pushed up tight against their principal, Jacob Zuma). More closely, that is, than, for example, Gwede Mantashe

Where this is leading is uncertain. It seems likely that Numsa will split from (or be driven out of) the alliance and perhaps from Cosatu. Numsa might more explicitly move towards establishing  a ‘labour’ or ‘workers’ party, perhaps in alliance with existing left-wing parties and trade unions. Numsa itself  may split in this process, so that a vestige of its former self is left behind in Cosatu.

Numsa freed from the constraints of belonging to the alliance and Cosatu has strong growth potential, particularly in the mining sector and can be expected to flourish there. It is not inconceivable that a defected Numsa will continue to lobby Cosatu unions and will grow as structures and regions of Cosatu unions also defect.

It is always possible for the ANC aligned leadership to stop this process, but that would entail having to give free rein to Jim and Numsa’s brutal criticism of ANC corruption and economic policy. The Nkandla Crew have obviously decided this is no longer an option – especially in the lead-up to an election where their principal is already under attack for public resources being lavished on his Nkandla home. Time will tell if they are strong enough to hold the smaller fort they have built against the growing number of enemies they are createing.

Meanwhile we must remember that Numsa is the most radical and best organised union in Cosatu – and many businesses would find them significantly less playable than the unions to which they are accustomed.

The next step will be the Numsa special conference. I expect Numsa to resolve to insist that Cosatu holds a special congress before elections next year. It is not impossible that that Cosatu special conference does take place and that the pro-Vavi faction secures his return – although there are almost endless practical difficulties in making this happen. However, any return of Vavi and and outbreak of peace in Cosatu will be temporary – unless there are radical changes in the ANC as well.

 

Draft of the Public Protectors report on the Nkandla build was leaked by the Mail & Guardian

The leaked report states that Jacob Zuma derived “substantial” personal benefit from the Nkandla upgrade that went way beyond ‘security features’ and that he would be liable to pay back this money to the public purse. The features Madonsela identified as unrelated to security spending was a swimming pool, visitors centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, extensive paving and new houses for relocated relatives. Public Works allowed Zuma’s architect ‘uncontrolled creep’ to broaden the project until another 4 firms that Zuma had privately engaged were effectively carrying out the Public Works’ security upgrade but without having tendered for the job  – and reporting back into Zuma and his architect (Mail & Guardian 30/11/13)

So what?

Mandonsela has come out strongly against the Mail & Guardian for having published the draft report. She says the confidential circulation of draft reports from her office is designed to allow interested parties to argue points and correct substantial errors. The Mail & Guardian argues that the public interest outweighed the internal processes of the Public Protector – given that the security cluster of government had regularly threatened to stop the report being published.

The more important question is how Jacob Zuma comes out of this. It is now impossible to avoid the fact that significant state resources were used on the President’s private residence and more and more details will surface as we head towards the elections in 2014. Leaks are appearing from the major party’s polling processes that suggest that the ANC is vulnerable around the Nkandla upgrade. If the ANC were to suffer electorally from the appetites of its president, and if it knew that its suffering was linked to those appetites, then we must assume that Jacob Zuma would be vulnerable. But vulnerable to impeachment or vulnerable to having his wings-clipped? It’s a big difference, but both should be items on our long-range screens.

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

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

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

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

South Africa deteriorating investment destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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