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This from my 22nd of April 2014 news update:

The Sunday Times 20/04/2014  released a second “fully representative” survey conducted by Ipsos using a sample of 2219 registered voters. Here are the results as published in the Sunday Times tracked against both the 2009 election and the earlier Sunday Times commissioned poll of March 11, 2014 that used the identical methodology:

recent poll 1

The City Press the same week led with the claim that bespoke polling data commissioned by the ANC is predicting the ANC will get 48% of the vote in Gauteng and that bespoke polling data commissioned by the DA is predicting that the DA will get 37% of the vote in Gauteng. The City Press claims are untestable and none of the parties has confirmed that these figures are, in fact, their estimates..

The Ipsos survey puts the ANC safe in Gauteng and the DA safe in the Western Cape:

recent poll 2

A few comments

Firstly, and most obviously, be cautious of these figures – they are contradictory – and the ones in City Press are undoubtedly leaked by the parties for their own ends.

Secondly, there are few surprises in the latest Ipsos poll. The ANC is trending downwards from its 2009 share of the vote, but not as steeply as I expected. This is probably because damage done by the “Jacob Zuma and Nkandla factor” is balanced against the boon the ruling party has enjoyed from the presence in the public mind of long-time ANC leader Nelson Mandela as well as the “20 Years of Freedom” celebrations this year. The EFF found quick and significant traction but the obvious unworkability of the new party’s economic policy is being quickly – and earlier than I expected – exposed in the cut and thrust of election debate.

Thirdly, the possibility of coalition governments in some provinces, especially Gauteng, raises interesting tactical questions. If alliances with the smallest parties are unable to bring a coalition led by either the DA or the ANC above 50% then both the major parties must consider an alliance with the EFF. Of course an alliance with each other is also conceivable, but from the ANC perspective (in my opinion) an alliance with the EFF would be the better tactical choice. The DA is shaping up to be the main challenger to the ANC by 2019 and the ANC should be loath to give the DA the legitimacy that might come with a governing coalition in an important province. Also a pact with the EFF would allow the ANC to co-opt EFF members and leaders. The point might be moot, because it is myimpression that the ANC is close to the 50% mark in the most populous province.

Fourthly, if the ANC does get above 64% of the vote in this election (which is looking possible) the incumbent leadership of the party will comfortably dismiss the various urgent criticisms of corruption and mismanagement it has faced. The Nkandla scandal is just one of a myriad improprieties that have characterised Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the ANC and it cannot be good for South Africa if the electorate gave him the go ahead to continue in the same vein.

 

 

 

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

 

 

This is a quick  aside before getting onto the more riveting topics of the May 7 elections, service delivery protests (and their search for a Gene Sharp handbook as well as the predictions of the Davies J-curve), the platinum strike, Julius Malema’s sequestration hearing in the North Gauteng High Court this morning (and the pressing matter of whether this could bar him from becoming a member of parliament in terms of section 47c of the Constitution) and the truly interesting Ipsos comparisons of the demographic characteristics of supporters of the ANC, the DA and the EFF.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings**

Over the weekend a young, close relative of mine wondered aloud why South Africans continued to vote for the ANC.

The child explained to me late on Saturday night that the ruling party was an institution so obviously bereft of redeeming features that only a person on drugs could possibly continue to vote for it.

“Why don’t they vote for another party?” asked the child in exasperation.

I have to admit that while I recognised the opportunity was begging for a cautious and loving Socratic exchange, I couldn’t raise the enthusiasm to give more than an exhausted ‘who’s they‘, followed by a quick retreat and request a continuation in the morning.

The next day, having completed the obligatory 52 hours (I think that’s about how long it takes?) of newspaper reading, I found myself sitting beside the same child watching Adventure Time on television.

When the charming, nuanced, off-beat and deeply intelligent (in comparison to other media I had been consuming that morning) cartoon was over, the child switched off the television, turned his angelic face towards me and asked: “so, about the ANC …?”

I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.

“White settlers from Holland” I began, gazing into the middle distance with a faintly sad expression on my face, as if watching the mournful parade of our history playing out in my mind, “first came to South Africa in 1652 and many bitter struggles were fought over land and cattle.”

Jumping ahead somewhat I went straight to the nub: “On January 8th 1912, chiefs, representatives of people`s and church organisations, and other prominent individuals gathered in Bloemfontein and formed the African National Congress. The ANC declared its aim to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms.”

Okay, I’m messing with you … that’s a cut-and-paste from ‘a brief history of the ANC’ on the organisation’s website.

However, I find it significant that I had to open the web page and read some of the highlights from there. Somehow the essential story, the glorious history of the glorious struggle for freedom and democracy, the dead heroes, the banners, the flags and the songs, sounded tired and clichéd and faintly hackneyed as I ran through it without much real enthusiasm.

But I still argued the toss. It was not surprising that most black South Africans who were registered to vote would still be voting for the ANC (and, btw, ‘most black South Africans registered to vote’ was still probably ‘most South Africans of voting age’ given both our demographics and our 77% voter registration). The ANC led the fight against Apartheid. The ANC has presided over massive and ongoing redress in favour of black South Africans since 1994! A few bad eggs in the leadership do not change that.

The child raised a litany of objections: ‘Zuma’, ‘Nkandla’, ‘the arms deal’, ‘police violence’, ‘judicial – and other – appointments’, ‘the diversion of billions of rand into the coffers of fat cats and the party itself’, ‘governance failures’, ‘the Traditional Courts Bill’, ‘borderline homophobia’, ‘the impending Zuma/Putin nuclear caper’, ‘growing intra-ANC violence in contestation for increasingly lucrative political jobs’ and ‘increasing state sanctioned violence’ – duh! 

(I suspect the ‘child’ is imaginary, a clunky rhetorical device … also, ‘duh’ means ‘give me a break’, or ‘don’t waste my time with the stupid and obvious’ – Ed)

 The child’s arguments asserting the extremely putrid state of the ruling party became louder as did my insistence that the majority of voters were not brain-dead zombies acting out a destructive and unconscious impulse.

From the vantage point of this Monday afternoon I worry that I sounded a little like a master of ANC Apologetics ; but the child, delightfully, sounded like a shorter, skinnier, cleverer and more charming Wilmot James

I obviously didn’t answer the question why do the majority of South Africans still vote for the ANC? to the satisfaction of he who asked it – although I am equally satisfied that I can understand why a majority of normal, sane black South Africans, acting in their enlightened self-interest, might vote for the ANC.

However what I didn’t say in the argument with the child is that I am also sure that along the path down which the ANC is currently travelling, with Nkandla (the political/economic/security faction rather than the homestead) leading the way, awaits a place or a moment at which the ANC will lose the support of the majority of free thinking, free voting* South Africans. Of this I am convinced. I think that moment is some distance ahead – only conceivably first appearing in 2019.

But who walks blindly towards catastrophe, when it is visible, predicted by one’s own forecasting, evident in every stumble along the deteriorating path?

Think about the ANC as having a brand value. Think about the forces that operate within the ANC as a kind of political market. I am hopefully expectant that that market will automatically self-correct … that the  brand is so valuable that the threat of its loss will trigger a protective impulse, will mobilise the many who have much to lose if their asset continues to be led and used in the manner it is being led and used by its incumbent central leadership.

Obviously the incumbent leaders of the ANC will not willingly lose control. The consequences for this particular crew would be more negative and profound than, for example, a similar loss of control was for Thabo Mbeki. Also the incumbent leadership has a security/intelligence/street-fighter thing going that could make it a vicious and dangerous opponent of any serious movement for renewal within the party.

Finally, I imagine that the fewer votes the ANC receives in the May 7 election (which I don’t see being fewer than 60% of the total) the more likely and vigorous will be an attempt to change the organisation’s current trajectory and leadership.

(I am not going to run all of that passed the aforementioned child – he will, with some justification, roll his eyes and say whatever.)

* I use the “free thinking, free voting” qualification because it is not an eternal given that we will remain, as we have been (only briefly, since 1994) free, or relatively so, to think and vote as we please.

**’Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ comes from Matthew (21:16) recalling the words of Jesus, who was in turn referring to Psalm 8 –  from the King James Version, a widely admired (for its literary value) English translation of the Christian Bible … that’s for any readers in a geographical, cultural and/or technological location so remote that even Google cannot help them as it has helped me fake that I knew the full origin of the phrase before I sat down to write this morning.

  • Important defection from the ANC to the EFF, and the DA launches robust campaign in Soweto – but it is probably not yet enough to scare the ANC
  • Appropriate concern grows at the Promotion of Investment and Protection Bill
  • Stunning victory in eastern DRC is becoming a feather in Zuma’s cap … 
  • … while the chaos in the SAPS and crime intelligence is a serious indictment of South Africa’s political leaders – and is threatening the investment environment

Herewith my latest news summary and analysis.

As I have mentioned previously, I write these updates very early on Monday mornings for the paying clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities. So thanks to those good people for allowing me to republish a few days later here (and thanks to them for giving me a fairly loose rein as to the style I am allowed to use).

Dali Mpofu announces defection from ANC to EFF
Dali Mpofu, advocate of the miners who were killed by the police in Marikana and a former CEO of the SABC, announced over the weekend that he was leaving the ANC and joining the Economic Freedom Fighters. While this is not completely unexpected (he represented Julius Malema in the ANC disciplinary hearings against the former ANCYL chairperson) Mpofu is perhaps the most mainstream figure to formally defect from the ANC and declare for the EFF.

So what?

This is my ‘shifting target’ predictions for the 2014 national election as of Friday November 1 (click on the graphic to see the details … and note the cute child sucking her thumb which is a graphic metaphor indicating I am making this up as I go along):

elecjpg

Some of you who saw those estimates in September might notice that I have massaged the EFF upwards and AgangSA downwards.

My Democratic Alliance results are probably too generous, although the pictures published in Afrikaans weekly Rapport on Sunday (11/03/2013) of the DA’s Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane’s launch of his campaign in the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto on Saturday indicate a surprisingly robust start.

Mmusi

My caution about the upside for the DA is based on the history of outcomes in the four national elections since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 (again click on the graphic for a version large enough to read … note DA at 16.66% in 2009 and ANC at 65.9% … hmm):

Elec history

One would have to suggest that the DA has set itself too difficult a task in declaring that it hopes to achieve 30% of the national vote and be in a position to form a provincial government in Gauteng in an alliance with other opposition parties after elections in 2014. The EFF and AgangSA are likely to eat into ANC support but the challengers have a mountain to climb and the incumbent has to fall a long way before the climbers even catch sight of their objective.

Concern grows at the Promotion of Investment and Protection Bill

Legislation designed to replace a number of bilateral investment treaties that South Africa has maintained with over a hundred trade and investment partners was published in the government gazette on Friday and is starting to raise concerns among investors. Already Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan has angrily blamed “lawyers serving the private sector” for increasing uncertainty in South Africa’s investment environment with regard to this legislation (in a deeply unhelpful statement he made on the side-lines of the African Economic Conference at Montecasino in Johannesburg last Monday – Business Day 28/03/2013).

So what?

At the height of the campaign for the nationalisation of mines during 2012 (by Julius Malema and the ANC Youth League) it was South Africa’s myriad bilateral investment protection treaties that were the strongest argument of reassurance for foreign investors. The problem is less the new legislation, and more that fact that existing treaties will not be renewed. Business Day in its front page lead story this morning says the decision not to renew the treaties has been criticised “by a range of groups, from foreign business to credit agencies for causing uncertainty over the security of future foreign investment”.  An informed legal opinion would be a requirement for the proper assessment of the risk here, but it is appropriate to approach this policy and legislative shift with caution.

Jacob Zuma attempts to fill the Great Lakes power vacuum

In the light of a stunning and quick Congolese army (FARDC) victory over the occupying M23 rebels last week, Jacob Zuma has moved quickly to reinforce South Africa’s apparent sovereign advances in the region. Today he will host a joint summit of southern African and Great Lakes leaders in Pretoria to seek ways of consolidating this week’s victory by the FARDC and its Southern African allies … and on Tuesday he will chair another summit designed to kick-start an African Union plan for volunteer governments to form “coalitions of the willing” to tackle continental conflicts – Sunday Independent 03/11/2013.

So what?

The contending interests in and around the Eastern Congo are extraordinarily complex, but from a South African perspective the apparent defeat of the M23 is a success for the SADC Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to which South Africa has contributed more than 1 300 troops alongside 1700 from Tanzania and Malawi. The M23 is backed by Rwanda which in turn is an ally of the US and the UK in the region. Crucially, those Western powers have warned Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to back off supporting the M23 – which is probably what left the rebels vulnerable last week (Sunday Independent and other several other sources).

There are significant mineral resources in the region and the Inga hydroelectric projects might become decisive to economic development in several southern African countries. Stability in the eastern DRC impacts on Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sudan and even Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Jacob Zuma has managed to shift significant obstacles out of the way of reformatting alliances in the region – an objective that eluded Thabo Mbeki. The situation is delicate and tentative but Jacob Zuma’s decisive follow-up indicates he is seizing the historical moment and the initiative in a manner that we would have thought unlikely a year ago.

The DRC is a Zuma plus but Crime Intelligence and the SAPS is deepening minus

The main domestic weekly newspapers (Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press) all attempted (unsuccessfully) to make sense of the damaging disarray and conflict in various aspects of the South African security services, most importantly in Crime Intelligence, the Hawks and the top echelons of the South African Police Services itself.

Last Monday the national police commissioner Riah Phiyega issued a suspension letter to the acting Crime Intelligence head, Chris Ngcobo (on the basis that there is some unspecified problem with Ngcobo’s qualifications).  Almost immediately afterwards a spy tape emerged and was leaked to the press that indicated Riah Phiyega was guilty of a crime by having “tipped off Western Cape police boss Arno Lamoer about a crime intelligence investigation linked to him” – Mail & Guardian.

So what?

You have to go to the source code for what is happening here because the details of each claim and counter-claim are impossible to follow. Essentially the police, and particularly Crime Intelligence, have been profoundly damaged by having been drawn into high-level political contests, particularly those between former president Thabo Mbeki and then challenger Jacob Zuma. Significant parts of these apparatuses have become semi-criminal and out-of-control, pursuing sometimes arcane political (and worse) agendas. The top echelons of our political establishment are directly implicated in and linked to this chaos – having deployed these institutions in their internecine battles. No individual institutional failing in South Africa is more serious and more threatening for those seeking stability and certainty in the regulatory and institutional environment.

Some of my recent news coverage and commentary:

E-tolling and the DA’s cruel billboards

Last week Jacob Zuma signed into law the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill – meaning the unpopular e-tolling can begin on certain Gauteng highways.

I was impressed that the President did the necessary – despite the fact that this will cost the ANC votes in the 2014 poll especially in the closely contested Gauteng and especially amongst the class of people the ANC is, supposedly, at risk of losing to opposition parties.

Of course failure to sign the law might have led to downgrades by rating agencies and an even more hostile report from the IMF … but good for him anyway!

The interesting aside is that last week huge billboards sprung up along those highways saying things like: “E-tolling – Proudly brought to you by the ANC”.

ANC-e-tolls-billboard

Of course that campaign is funded by the Democratic Alliance snapping with its sharp little teeth at the ruling party’s heals .

Or perhaps it is more like being savaged by a duck?

Whatever, it’s all part of the razzmatazz that is going to be seriously tiring in about four months’ time but for the moment is mildly entertaining.

Election 2014 – the Zuma swings and the Zuma roundabouts

The major weeklies continued their faintly mindless coverage of Election2014.

City Press ran with two stories about how the ANC had decided to put Jacob Zuma delivering 50 specific and successful infrastructure projects at the centre of the ruling party’s election campaign. Not quite the shock the screaming headlines claim it to be.

All the Sunday Papers covered the fact that last weekend’s National Executive Committee of the ANC nullified the previous week’s Provincial General Council of the ANC in Gauteng. At issue was that the ANC in Gauteng is clearly not delighted to have to front itself with this particular president and believes its supposedly more urbane, sophisticated urban voters would be better wooed by Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and/or Kgalema Motlanthe.

Deep behind the chatter is the growing view that the Zuma-face of the ANC is unlikely to charm the middle classes. The basic reasons, according to feisty City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, are made explicit in the Gupta wedding scandal cover-up:

“(it was not) the first time the party has been damaged by our president’s careless ways and friendships, which morph too easily into cronyism and patronage. There is a long line of infractions, stretching from the arms deal and his relationship with Schabir Shaik, to the rape trial he faced (the president was acquitted), the news of a child born out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza, the splurge at Nkandla and the game-playing with the courts around the spy tapes.” (Said the delightful, clever and middle-class Ferial Haffajee in her column in City Press  on 06/10/2013)

The rumour mill is constantly hinting that in certain constituencies the ANC will lose votes because of perceptions about Jacob Zuma’s cronyism and his traditionalist lifestyle choices. The hints usually suggest that the ANC’s own polling information confirm the view.

Frankly it would hardly be a big surprise if certain middle class constituencies are not enamoured with Jacob Zuma. Previous elections strongly indicate that the president is wildly popular in poorer and rural communities, so things are likely to balance out for the ANC.

What would be a surprise is if government got its act together with regard to infrastructure delivery in any meaningful way before Election2014. While a burst of energy can only be a good thing, do not expect a miraculous improvement in infrastructure delivery to result from the ANC’s election campaign.

Microlending falls from favour

Microlending as a business took a number of hits this past week. Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the microcredit lender Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, warned that microlending to finance consumption could lock the poor into a life of poverty.

More importantly from a local perspective, Futuregrowth Asset Management’s Andrew Canter was quoted in the Business Times (06/102013) saying the company would “wind down” its exposure to microlenders, including Capitec, African Bank and other unsecured lenders on “moral grounds” (unfortunately the story doesn’t specify if Canter was purely referring to Futuregrowth’s SRI funds – which would be my expectation.) Canter, according to the paper, said: “We have always backed the responsible firms, but the industry structure has provoked industry behaviours that are not good for consumers, or in our view, the nation” … but, he said, Futuregrowth would not make a “panic exit”. “If industry practices improve, or particular players create more sustainable lending products, we will look to back them.”

The microcredit industry has always been controversial and becomes more so when consumers are struggling to make repayments in declining economic conditions. With the link having been drawn between the Marikana tragedy and the extent to which the strikers where in dire straits with regard to loan repayments, it was only a matter of time before sentiment towards the lenders would sour. With sentiment this negative, government is likely to further tighten regulatory control of the sector, especially in an election build-up.

The judiciary – it’s that Jacob Zuma problem again

In a matter almost as impenetrable as it is serious, a judicial tribunal appointed to probe Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged attempt to influence two Constitutional Court judges to rule in President Jacob Zuma’s favour when he was fending off serious allegations of corruption got under way last week.

Amongst the complicating factors is that the two judges Hlophe allegedly tried to influence, Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde, have indicated they do not wish to proceed with the complaint.

I am not going to pretend to be able to analyse adequately what is going on here. Follow Pierre De Vos at his excellent blog Constitutionally Speaking for all matters relating to politics and the constitution. There is going to be a lot of complex legal argument around this matter but most constitutional experts suggest that the judiciary will be harmed almost no matter the outcome.

The point we unfortunately have to keep uppermost in our minds is that politicians, and especially their machinations in internal struggles within the ruling party, have damaged our systems of law and the institutions that are important to our democracy – from the judiciary, to the prosecutorial authority and including all state sectors directly concerned with national security (including the SAPS, crime intelligence and National Intelligence Service.) And further, such damage continues unabated as powerful groups in the ruling alliance war against each other.

Preface 

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

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

Ten days that shook my world

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is you probably can’t.

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

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

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

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

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what about the Russian people?

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

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

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

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

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

Media freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enthusiasm is a quality I value.

It’s especially endearing in children and dogs. But in human adults beyond the blush of youth it is nothing short of heroic.

However, when enthusiasm is both sentimental and irrational it is decidedly less attractive.

Which brings me to Mamphela Ramphele, Cyril Ramaphosa and the National Development Plan – severally and apart.

When Ramphele resigned yesterday as Chairperson of Goldfields an anticipatory shudder went through the local and international intelligentsia (from the well known Russian word интеллигенция, and defined in Wikipedia as “people engaged in complex mental labour aimed at disseminating culture”).

Yes Ramphele:

  • is tough, principled, intelligent, successful, well organised and has experience at running large organisations;
  • has a degree of “struggle credibility” having been involved in the Black Consciousness Movement 70s;
  • and is unlikely to have made her move without adequate capital backing and other promises of support by significant others …

… and yes we all assume, undoubtedly correctly, that there is a significant (and growing) urban, African, middle-class electoral constituency that is increasingly unrepresented by an ANC that is tending, under Jacob Zuma,  to drift towards a  rural, chauvinist, patronage driven complacency.

The point, for the интеллигенция, is that this constituency is ripe-for-the-plucking by an opposition party lead by Ramphele … a constituency that feels unable to support the Democratic Alliance for historical, ethnic, cultural, policy reasons.

What is it with us looking for a saviour to rise from these streets?

In the recent months it has been Cyril Ramaphosa who will save the ANC from itself and us all from Zuma’s government.

And if that fails we have the National Development Plan that will fix everything.

Like Ramphele and Ramaphosa, the National Development Plan is great.

It might be my own pessimism, but in my opinion these are, all three, not (powerfully) shapers of historical outcomes … they are effects, not causes.

The NDP is just a piece of paper, an adequate diagnosis and a bundle of good intentions.

Ramaphosa is embedded in something much more powerful, and scarier, than he will ever be.

Ramphele is a single person with no established political constituency, no party machinery and a reputation for humiliating her senior managers in public (… aside from all those good things I mentioned earlier).

Sure, we can hope that she will sweep the ANC’s patronage networks aside and replace it with a meritocracy pure as the driven snow.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Jac Laubscher summarises:

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

“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First off, let me admit, that I have no choice but to believe that the answer to the question in the title is: yes.

It’s an article of faith.

Who can live in a world where the bullies and thugs, the greedy and manipulative, the powerful and the arrogant have won so decisively that it is pointless to hope – and perhaps work – for an alternative?

Who would dare raise children in such a world?

Or bother to get up in the morning?

In a post titled “A church so broad belief is optional” I two years ago argued that the ANC’s huge electoral support and attempt to straddle every social divide had an upside (as well as several downsides).

Here’s a (slightly edited) quote from that post:

Our society has a number of real and urgent fault-lines along which clashing currents are difficult to manage:

  • White versus black (versus Indian versus Coloured)
  • poor versus rich;
  • the employed versus the unemployed;
  • Zulu versus Xhosa versus Pedi versus Ndebele versus Sotho versus Tswana versus Venda;
  • Western versus African;
  • Urban, modern and fast versus rural, traditional and conservative.

The fact of the matter is that these divisions are not adequately represented in the formal political processes of parliament and government. There is no one party on one side of any of these divisions and mostly no one party on the other.

We are a society in which the formal institutions of democracy are new and tentative – and the divisions are threatening and profound. As many groups and interests as possible need to find expression in the national political debate – and the formal institutions do not yet adequately represent them.

As a second prize, an overwhelmingly dominant ruling party that attempts to play the role of a parliament of all the people, that attempts to speak with the cacophony of the thousand arguing tongues, is not all bad.

It’s just loud, noisy, confusing and unsettling.

This argument came to mind as I picked through the weekly English language press (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Independent and the Sunday Times) this morning.

I do an exhaustive/exhausting reading of the English language weeklies every Sunday afternoon/night to produce a summary analysis for my main clients by Monday morning. It is an extremely painful task and I am always tempted to quote that famous Punch magazine cartoon from November 9 1895 by George du Maurier to describe what I really think of these newspapers. A bishop is dining, in a formal setting, with a junior curate:

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”;

Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”  

But I never actually say that, because there are always a few articles, features and editorials in all four of these newspapers that are truly excellent: well researched, well written and insightful; and it would be untrue and unjust – and a little arrogant – for me to suggest they all stink by virtue of being surrounded, as they are,  by rotten, ill-informed and sensationalist rubbish.

So back to the title question.*

The Sunday Times has Motlanthe rejecting Zuma’s deal of the deputy presidency in exchange for him (Motlanthe) not standing in the presidential race.

It’s a particularly poorly structured story (trying to get away with suggesting a whole range of things without actually saying any of them) although it is full of tantalising tidbits.

So lets take the hints (from all four of the mentioned newspapers) as real possibilities:

  • Motlanthe stands against Zuma;
  • Unraveling patronage networks, especially in eThikwine, open(s?) the possibility of driving a wedge in Zuma’s Kwazulu-Natal support base;
  • To strengthen his ticket against Motlanthe, Zuma offers Cyril Ramaphosa the deputy presidency;
  • Gauteng suggests Joel Netshitenzhe as part of the Motlanthe challenge – essentially to stand against Gwede Mantashe (who’s a cornerstone of the SACP support for Zuma);
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela comes out more explicitly anti-Zuma (especially of his handling of Julius Malema) and supportive of  the putative Motlanthe challenge.

So what do we have there?

A Zuma, Ramaphosa, SACP ticket versus a Motlanthe, Netshitenzhe, Winnie, Malema ticket?

Oh Lord, give me strength.

Can’t we have a Joel Neshitenzhe, Cyril Ramaphosa ticket supported by Motlanthe and opposed by the ANC Youth League, Winnie Mandela and an unholy alliance of the Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga patronage networks? (I have written previously about Joel on this website here,  here and here.)

That desire is the moral and intellectual equivalent of arm-chair sports selecting. It would be nice … as would a leadership consisting of a young and vigorous Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu …

So quickly, before I go back to picking my way through the odorous wreckage of the four weeklies spread out on my table and floor (the soul-crushing banality of etv’s Sunday afternoon offering in the background and the Cape Town winter sun finally beckoning outside):

What happens at Mangaung will not decisively determine the character of the ANC.

Polokwane was billed as a major rescue attempt – saving the ANC from the dead hand of Mbeki and rolling back the power of the narrow BEE elite which was allied to the most predatory forms of global monopoly capitalism.

Polokwane was going to reinstill the movement with idealism, energy and enthusiasm and channel it into ‘a pro-poor strategy’.

Well, we know how that played out.

Mangaung, like Polokwane, was a result of a complex interplay of forces and contests that go deep into South Africa’s past.

I cannot honestly argue that Jacob Zuma is a better or worse candidate for the ANC or the South African presidency than Kgalema Motlanthe – although I accept that some people can and do (with a lot of enthusiasm).

However, politics is a matter of contingency. It really is the art of the possible … in this sense it is full of difficult compromises.

Any individual who finds him or her self in an ANC branch or region or leadership position, will be faced with choices that, when aggregated, will shape the future of the ANC and, quite possibly, the country. (The same is, of course, true for any South African, inside or outside the ANC.)

Those choices might be circumscribed – by history, by existing power structures and alliances, by the momentum invested by those who control the patronage networks and by wherever it is that the individual finds him or her self.

But if you are not going to throw up your hands in despair and retreat to your bed forever, if you are unable to cut and run, then you have an obligation to make some kind of decision and choice.

I do believe that what the ANC becomes matters – although what it becomes is not going to be determined at Mangaung or as a result of it being led by Kgalema Motlanthe or by Jacob Zuma.

(Note added a few hours later. On reflection, I might have empasised that the cartoon is even more apt for the ANC than it is for the English language SA weeklies … it was meant to be suggested, almost by my omission … but on reflection, I think I will spell it out … which I have now done.)

I am in Serbia on a social visit and I thought I would record here some of my initial observations about stuff we might learn from this country about some aspects of SA politics and culture.

Cultural Betrayal

Firstly, I am in Belgrade – a city of 1.6 million people built on the confluence of the Danube and the Sava – and a peculiar mixture of modern flash, Soviet-era bland and medieval tatty. The scars of the Nato bombings are still dramatically evident in a sort of carefully preserved tableau, a series of monuments to that seminal betrayal, that you can’t miss on your way in from the airport

Serbian/Yugoslav Army HQ? Taken a few minutes ago (thanks Jaimo) – I will double-check what the building’s original function was … before it (and a few of its neighbours) were bombed on May 1 1999, becoming (permanent?) monuments to Western perfidy

Why betrayal? Because everyone my age here has the same (as me)  … memealogy? (okay, I made it up – memes are cultural genes and you can work it backwards from genealogy). The cultural literacy is all Rolling Stones, Sam Peckinpah, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon, The Alien, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Billy Joel (you dredge up the cultural icon from the 60s, 70’s and 80’s and I bet I share it with Serbians of an appropriate age – except they are more culturally literate. Interestingly, just like in Yugoslavia, in SA we got this stuff a few years late – in SA because of apartheid and National Party awfulness, in Yugoslavia because of a slightly different set of transgressions.)

… and then one day their beloved Americans and English cultural tutors bombed them and killed the firemen trying to save people from the buildings – ostensibly to stop some new, particularly ugly, transgressions. Oh the treachery, the faithlessness …

Ethnic uniformity

The second thing that strikes me is the populace is ethnically identical. They are all white. There are no black people, no Arabic looking people; no any kind of people who are in any way different looking from what I think of as Slavic – which is just a minute variation on your bog standard white person – the men with chiseled features and the women with unusually long legs and everyone with white skin … not olive or dusky or anything, but white – in the old Apartheid conception of the skin colour.

“The city was more cosmopolitan”, my Serbian friend tells me, “before the disaster of Slobodan Milošević – before then you could see more  Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Muslims, Slovaks …”

We are wandering down a medieval street crammed with crowds of handsome young people. I ask him to show me some individual examples of these groups that survived the virtual and literal ethnic cleansing that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia.

His attempt seems half-hearted, even dispirited.

“Hmm maybe she is Croat,” he says indicating a woman flicking through some blouses at a street kiosk. She is one of the tall, long-legged, light-brown haired, chiseled cheek-boned and haughty beauties that shoal in these alleys, as ubiquitous as sardines at the right time in Durban.

“Ok, maybe not” he shrugs as I frown at him in confusion.

We finally manage to agree that “those gypsies” selling knock-off Ray-Bans look ethnically dissimilar to the majority. But to me  it’s a margin call – any one of them could have been my old ‘Leb’ Catholic chinas in the Johannesburg of my youth; definitely ‘white’ under apartheid’s racial taxonomy.

Remember it took the terror of ethnic cleansing to create this level of uniformity, but even before that, in the old Yugoslavia, the full range of ethnic diversity could have been encompassed by the differences between, say Rafael Nadel and Charlize Theron …

Let’s compare monstrous barbarisms

Everyone here above a certain age seems haunted by what happened after the collapse of Yugoslavia. You would think that this lot would be immunised to bombs, betrayals, racial and religious purging and radical disjuncture in their social organisation.

It started with the Celts invading  the “Paleo-Balkan tribes” in 50 000 BCE  (okay, I’m exaggerating) 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. It was the Byzantines, the Franks, the Bulgarians, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Crusades, the Serbian Empire (briefly) the Hungarians again, the Ottomans (for five hundred years! … and yes, they did persecute the Christians but not half as badly as the Christians did to almost anyone of any other faith during the Crusades … and there are a whole lot of beautiful and ancient churches that the Ottoman-Turk conquerors and rulers left standing) and the Austrians.

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.

The Economy and the European Debt Crisis

The Serbian economy has hit the wall and the government is trying to decide on a balance between cutting public sector wages and salaries by about 6% and increasing VAT to about 22%. The options are limited and there is an absolute consensus that extremely hard times have arrived. This is the European debt crises writ slightly smaller – because Serbia is not part of the European Union.

But what I see are people eating and drinking in restaurants – and partying as hard and as healthily as it gets.

There are almost no beggars – and those that there are are obviously professionals with studied acts:

  • the near-sighted (with ridiculously cute thick glasses) slightly retarded child playing – very badly – the violin, every item of clothing and scuff on his thick medical black shoes a carefully choreographed act that everyone consents to and ignores.
  • An old hunched-backed crone, her nose not six inches from the floor, tapping along on a short, gnarled staff, an arthritis crippled hand held out blindly above her … I am convinced she is a 22-year-old actress who couldn’t find a waitressing job.

The point is there are none of the streams of dead-eyed, exhausted people searching and researching the refuse; people you will find in any South African city. There is a medieval character to Belgrade, which means there are a million nooks and crannies and little hollows in ancient buildings and monuments everywhere. In South Africa those would all be occupied – where they were fenced, the fences would be broken and tunneled under – there would be evidence that someone was eking out an existence in every hollow, in every gap.

But here, nothing.

Sure, there is an occasional drunk sleeping on a park bench, but that is pretty much as bad as it gets. I have absolutely no doubt that I am not seeing the whole picture and certainly there are large areas of the city with awful Soviet-era council housing-type tenements, covered for 10 metres from street level with graffiti that looks to me just like Cape Town’s gang signs.

In South Africa we feel like we are bursting out of our seams, with the poor competing intensely for the leavings of the rich and thereby driving some kind of desperate but highly energetic economy. Here it feels older and emptier, certainly dowdy in places, but calm and stoic.

Everyone has time for a coffee and a rakia.

Don’t get me wrong. These people descend from women who have thrown their babies onto invader’s spears; their forefathers and mothers have eaten dogs and rats and stones to stave off the inevitable rape and slaughter that awaits the fall of the castle walls; they have catapulted the last live chickens at their enemies who have besieged them for years, and successfully convinced the invaders to just give up and go home.

So I  am not exactly saying that this is tired old Europe with nothing left to do but casually sip a coffee in the shade, sneering at the inevitable heat death that comes with impossible debt, dipping personal income and stagnant growth – of the economy and the population.

I am also not exactly saying that we are fresh and chaotic and ready to burst onto the global stage with the vigour and desperate energy of youth.

But there’s something in there, some little kernel or nugget – maybe a hope that I haven’t quite allowed myself to feel yet …

But it’s mid-afternoon and so hot that it is impossible to process this any further. Time for my first rakia and 4th double espresso – I’ll think about this tomorrow.

I think the e-tolling saga is important precisely because my headline bastardising the denouement of John Donne’s famous poem is, in truth, wrong.

Gauteng’s road upgrade does not come for free.

The R20bn was borrowed by Sanral and lent by people and institutions (which) who assessed the risk attached to repayment on the basis that e-tolling was part of the deal.

This is a précis of what I told my clients about some of the political implications:

The North Gauteng High Court granted an urgent interdict on Saturday that will postpone the implementation of e-tolling until as late next year – and perhaps contribute to stopping it completely.

At this stage the court has ordered a full review of the process that will probably take at least two months to complete. If the court rules that e-tolling can go ahead the appeals process, all the way to the Constitutional Court, can take up to two years.

So what?

There are a number of significant risks associated with this decision .

The National Treasury itself, during the course of legal arguments, predicted dire consequences for South Africa’s sovereign risk rating and for public finances more generally.

I think they exaggerated but one could hardly blame them. The Treasury is the custodian of the public purse and its officials and political head carry the responsibility  if R20bn that will no longer be raised from tolling has to be dug out from somewhere.

But the ruling is important for a deeper reason. South Africa, according to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address (and confirmed by a number of government and ANC statements in the last few months) is engaged in an infrastructure programme that is expected to cost just short of R1 trillion over the next 8 years.

This is the biggest bet for anyone hoping to invest in the country for the next ten years. Will it happen or will it – again – fizzle?

At least part of the funding model for this infrastructure programme is the  ‘user pays’ system established in the planning of the Gauteng highway upgrade project. In general, I think a user pays system is a more efficient – and fairer – system of allocating capital than unwieldy central plans that draw on the central tax pile.

Further, private sector lenders funded the project on the basis of the collection of user fees – this is how they did their calculations and assessed their risk. The ruling effects government’s credibility as a borrower.

Chris Hart (economist at Investment Solutions) is reported to have dismissed this saying the delay is no big deal – less than 0.2% of planned government expenditure this year. Goolam Ballim (chief economist at Standard Bank) said if there was a contractual infringement impacting on Sanral’s ability to pay, it did not imply sovereign default risk and “will not compromise South Africa’s international credit standing in any way”.

Now those two economists are no slouches – and know more about our public finances and the basis that the rating agencies changes the investment grades of our government bonds than I ever will – but surely it is obvious that there is a degree of damage to government (and Sanral’s) credibility as a borrower? Perhaps not as much as the Treasury argued during the urgent application. But we are coming up for strike season, the Treasury has promised to hold the line on public sector wage increases, the budget is under immense pressure and R20bn is not a meaninglessly small amount.

The whole of the South African government looks weak – with the Treasury and the Department of Transport being the most obviously and immediately affected. Both are “studying the ruling” before making public statements. These issues might not swing Standard & Poor, Fitch or Moody’s against SA bonds, but there is no question that this ruling will be part of their assessment.

The risks are clearer when we look at the political back-story. There is a changed political configuration in the Ruling Alliance. The rise of Jacob Zuma was characterised by an already growing influence of Cosatu on policy making.  A Thabo Mbeki led ANC would have taken a much stronger line against Cosatu’s campaign against e-tolling and would have stood much more firmly behind the Treasury’s arguments in favour. I am not necessarily cheering for that side, but I do think the Zuma administration is beholden to Cosatu in a manner that limits its options in public finance – and that limitation is being set by a very narrow interest group.

Cosatu has – as is its wont at the moment – been tactically brilliant in this campaign. It has built a classic broad front, multi-class alliance against the e-tolls and has strengthened the group made up of Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and Numsa on the one hand and weakened the group made up of Sdumo Dlamini (Cosatu President) Frans Baleni and Num on the other.  See here for more discussion on the relevant factional splits within Cosatu.

The gravitational centre of the Alliance is only weakly occupied by Zuma and “the left” in Cosatu has been able to shift the whole edifice towards itself. This is a trend that we will have to keep a close eye on during the lead-up to Mangaung, when the Zuma administration is likely to be at its most docile and weak.

And it is in this environment that Cosatu has taken on e-tolling as ‘privatisation by stealth’ and an infrastructure funding method that taps its constituency too directly. Cosatu is a sectional interest group … and is completely entitled to pursue the sectional interests of its employed worker members (employed, by definition, in ‘union jobs – and all strength and luck to them for that advantage’.)

The most important signifier issue will be how government deals with public sector wage demands over the next few months. It’s strike season, and I mentioned elsewhere, Gordhan’s budget only balanced because of the hard line he took against public sector wage increases.

To give you a sense of why that is important, this is what I said about the budget and public sector wages on February the 23rd:

Public sector wages: This is the area, to our (I wrote this with economist Sandra Gordon) mind, of least credibility with the most consequence:

Total Compensation % of total budget % yoy
2009/10 248558.0 31.8 17.7
2010/11 281619.2 33.6 13.3
2011/12 314907.2 33.9 11.8
2012/13 336959.4 33.5 7.0
2013/14 357168.2 32.7 6.0
2014/15 378148.7 32.1 5.9

Adjusted for inflation those figures in bold are heading towards zero – and remember we are talking about over 30% of the total. The public sector wage bill was R8,1bn more than budgeted for in 2011/12 and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the whole edifice of the budget could crumble on this point.

So what? … Public sector unions set the tone for industrial bargaining throughout the economy. Our main scenario, in which 2012/13 becomes an industrial relations blood-bath, is looking ever more likely – although we await, with interest, Cosatu’s formal response to Budget 2012. This proposed spending shift – if Zuma’s ANC can hold the line – is also supportive of our construction and investment relative to consumer equity theme – with the consumer sector keeping a “look-in” by social grants increases from R105bn in 2012/2013 to R122bn 2014/15 and the promise to reassess if inflation rises further.   
.

So the e-tolling is an ongoing threat to public finances and it is an indicator issue of how beholden … and therefore weak … Zuma’s leadership is.

But there is an upside to this story. The ANC and Cosatu did agree to postpone e-tolling after their meeting last week – and announced that they had instructed government to do this (revealingly issuing a hastily retracted statement saying they would, in fact “request government to postpone”).

But the real upside is that it wasn’t, ultimately, political weakness or fiscal slippage that led to the cancelling of e-tolling. It was judicial sensitivity to popular opposition and an assertion of the principle of the rule of law.

You will be able to tell by reading between the lines that I think e-tolling was actually the right approach, but it is clear that an unaccountable system, that never bothered to consult the public properly and that, in addition, has badly damaged its own credibility in as far as corruption and maladministration is concerned, was defeated by a judge determined to uphold legal accountability and respect for popular discontent.

It might make the Treasury’s job more difficult and it might create uncertainties about funding infrastructure development, but it has got to be positive for the South African democracy as a whole.

A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.

This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.

The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.

Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.

What an excellent metaphor.

The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.

Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):

(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)

One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.

As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm  of the overall contest for power.

One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.

When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.

There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.

It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.

One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:

‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”

But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.

“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.

Winter is coming.

* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)

(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa,  ANC treasurer general and  previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC;  Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there);  Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.

And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as  Minister,  NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga - minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC;  Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)

Arrived late last night in New York from London (and Edinburgh and Frankfurt)  and the lag means I am only going to want to fall asleep at exactly the time it will be most unsuitable to do so.

I have been travelling (for Indian owned Religare Capital Markets, where I have a new berth) with the excellent Michael Kavanagh who is a mining and metals specialists. We have a story which interestingly balances the South African political risk (especially associated with nationalisation) and the long-term bullish outlook for  platinum. We are half way through a global tour talking to fund managers who specialise in investing either in mining stocks or emerging markets … or both.

South Africans at the point of weeping and pulling their hair out because of the latest ANC Youth League posture, or the newest tender scandal or Jacob Zuma’s increasingly hopeless grasp on the complexities need to spend a little time with people whose job it is to compare South Africa as an investment destination with its peers.

Oh yes, they worry faintly about Julius Malema’s antics but their universe of comparison is huge and diverse … and if the worst comes to the worst the money they manage can shift very easily and early.

(Our parochialism causes us to believe) we have no-one with whom to compare our populists, gangsters, thugs and incompetents.

Trust me (or rather trust the fund managers with whom I have been speaking), ours are no worse than the equivalents in Russia, Brazil, India, China … and a host of similar investment destinations between which the money flicks and flitters.

One of my slides that might not charm a domestic audience causes nothing more than a wry smile here. This is par for the course for investors who concentrate on global emerging markets; some light relief before going back to worrying about whether Israel is going to bomb the Iranian nuclear fuels development programme or not.

We might as well smile – both because we are not as bad as we could be, but also because when you look further than the grotesque, our earnestness is almost sweet and crazy … to my mind, anyway.

I think both the DA and the ANC might be on the verge of an evolutionary spurt that will change what they are and thus see them shifting into new ecological  niches in our political landscape.

I also think that the landscape itself changes much slower than we think or hope.

Voluntarism is a term for a species of political error – and I dredge this up from the gleaming days of my youthful involvement in the ‘mass democratic movement’ in South Africa. The taxonomic system we developed for naming and defining ‘mistaken beliefs’ was tiresomely thorough and self-righteous, but I have to confess that I still dip into that frame of reference and find there useful analogies and ways of understanding the world.

Voluntarism  means believing that through pure force of will, cleverness of organisation, brilliance of strategy, accuracy of tactics and shear hope, anything could be achieved no matter what the inherent conditions.

I am convinced that the Democratic Alliance foray into the townships and squatter camps is either a form of voluntarism or it will result in the DA becoming something else entirely – and ultimately something very similar to what the ANC has become.

This somewhat pessimistic view of politics is based on the assumption that politicians and political parties do not have a free hand to sell what they like to whoever (whomever?) they like.

The racial divide in South Africa and the racial solidarity of the groups which face each other across that divide is a deep structural phenomenon and not a casual consumer preference.

When Julius Malema talks about “the Madam and her tea girl” referring to DA chief Helen Zille and the DA MP and national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko he finds a resonance.

This ‘resonance’ is not something created by clever marketing and it is also not something that can be got rid of like Vodacom changing its colours from blue to red.

Groups of people, their ideology, culture and attitudes can be changed – particularly in the powerfully denaturing environment of modern industrial cities. This is how an African peasantry became  the urban proletariat of South Africa’s modern capitalism. And it was this process that created the possibility of an ANC that represented all black Africans in the country and not just specific tribal groups.

But do not overestimate the power and speed of this process. Think of the ethnic boroughs in New York; think of the Xhosa/Zulu tussle in the ANC and think of the unbridgeable divide between the black and white experience in South Africa.

South Africa’s history, including colonialism and Apartheid, has a powerful momentum in our lives today. I think this means that the hope that the DA with more black faces and branches (but essentially the same ideology , structure and principles) could make a serious electoral challenge will remain just that – a hope.

A party still called the Democratic Alliance could displace the ANC, but only by becoming something very similar to its foe i.e. led by black people with a history of opposition to Apartheid and primarily about redressing the past,  directing state resources to benefit black people and  channelling wealth towards the emerging black elite.

The “rump” of the DA are good old white liberals (in the best sense of the word) who have their ideological roots in the closing years of Apartheid.

A party with such a “rump” will never (in any time frame that could be relevant to us) represent a majority of black South Africans – even urban professionals, even a significant minority. To represent those people the DA would have to be of those people, run by those people and be an instrument to further the interests of those people.

I do think urban African professionals are in the process of defecting, with disgust, from the ANC.

But I will be looking for a Movement for Democratic Change lookalike (to the ANC’s ZANU-PF) to emerge from the South African political dynamic.

That ultimately means I am still looking for an organised defection by the industrial working class and their middle class allies that will emerge from a split in the Ruling Alliance – that would probably put Cosatu on one side and the ANC on another.

On this basis the ANC could lose control of the cities to a political formation like the MDC –  although not one that could be portrayed, as the MDC has been by ZANU-PF and by the ANC (which can already sense the threat), as having been funded and set up by white farmers and other ‘enemies of national liberation’.

There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong … that we have it within ourselves to escape the awful gravity of our history; that we really are free to choose our future.

My view, however, is that the choices we do have are all within a narrow band of possibilities confined by the deep structural features of our past and present.

Thus the ecology of our society and our politics remains the same – or at least changes extremely slowly – but the creatures that inhabit the landscape are modified by natural selection and drift and displace each other in the niches that are available to them.

(My next post will deal with the question of what the ANC is becoming as it changes its niche as the party narrows and shifts – geographically, ideologically and socially.)

This added after publication:

The über-troll of South African political analysis R.W. Johnson added this gentle corrective to the version of the above article published on Politicsweb: “Am I the only person astonished by the fact that Mr Borain can’t spell voluntarism ?” He’s quite right about this – as he is about so much – although he is usually also interesting. He was, appropriately, hanging out with the racist bullies in Politicsweb’s comments section, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his sneering tone.

The word is voluntarism (not volunterism, as I originally had it … I got it wrong because I mistakenly thought ‘we’  had made it up and I could therefore spell it as I pleased) and it means: “any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology”  – from Dictionary.com.

I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.

In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.

I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.

Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.

(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at nic.borain@gmail.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)

Julius Malema

If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy –  fill your boots! “

He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.

I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.

He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.

This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.

He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.

Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was  looking scary.

And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.

I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.

I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.

I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.

President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.

Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.

The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism

I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the  ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.

For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.

At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.

The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of  a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.

It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.

This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.

Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.

Helen Zille also rises

My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language,  is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.

Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.

Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes

I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.

There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.

The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the  Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.

Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?

I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.

The cacophony – let it stop!!

It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.

I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’  or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.

It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.

I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.

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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