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

The Public Protector clashes with Zuma’s security chiefs

Thuli

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

RadebeCwelebetter

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

Elecguestimates

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

 

Cyril Ramaphosa on a ‘social compact’

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

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

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

Earlier, he says:

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

So what?

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

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

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

 

Bits and Pieces

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

It is difficult to avoid an abiding suspicion that the protesters flinging faeces in the general direction of the DA led Cape Town and Western Cape provincial administrations are not always, as they claim, signed up members of the downtrodden masses.

Among the reasons I am suspicious is a good friend told me that when the recent group of 176 protesters carrying bags of shit – let’s call it what it is  –  were offloaded at Esplanade train station in Woodstock she couldn’t help but notice the pitter-patter of Carvella clad feet,  the swish of Gucci handbags (in the hands not carrying the  shit …. hmm, whatever) and the sleekly clad and buxom bodies diagnostic of a certain species of yuppie political activist.

So, yes … it is difficult to separate the reality from the hyperreality , so to speak, when it comes to the semeiotics of the ANC’s clash with the DA, especially in the Western Cape.

A more interesting take, one that doesn’t bother with the relatively minor question of political parties’ attempts to manipulate or ride the underlying grievances of the poorest and most marginalised South Africans, is an excellent article by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service website (SACSIS describes it’s function as: “

Schutte writes:

Though ‘shitting’ has to be one of the most taboo subjects around, it is a matter that we all deal with, on average once or twice a day. Defecation, and the rules governing it, undoubtedly comprises the complete gamut of human behaviour yet open discussion around it is deemed distasteful and disgusting. Indeed this is exactly how it played out when protesters dumped the contents of portable toilets on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in a backlash against the sanitation policy of Helen Zille’s administration. This policy offers communal portable flush toilets to shack dwellers at no cost — a system, which they say, is inadequate and often ends up filthy and untended.

Catch Schutte’s article here and I would recommend that you subscribe to the free SACSIS.org.za email service.

That being said, spare a thought for the put-upon DA premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.

I stumbled across a thorough report from the Presidency (Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation) into the state of sanitation services across the country. The report (download it here) makes a detailed comparison between provinces. I laboriously screen-snipped the graphs for provincial performances in informal housing areas and put them together in a graphic (which is a stretch for me, so I hope someone finds this useful).

This is what the scoreboard looks like:

poolitics2

(When you look at relative performance in formal areas the Western Cape  also performs well, bested only by Gauteng – although, I suppose, it is not useful to run this like it was a competition. The ANC has faced rolling service delivery protests across the country for many years and the tit-for-tat between the DA and the ANC with regard to the toilet issue has almost nothing to do with ‘the facts’ or ‘the truth’.)

However the graphic does confirm that the DA has outperformed in relation to a crucial area of service delivery to informal areas – the very areas from which it is getting flack in Cape Town. And that raises an interesting point about the stability of societies as they move away from authoritarian rule and high levels of absolute and relative poverty.

There is a peculiar fact, confirmed across the world and over a long period of time, that improved service delivery itself is a good predictor of protest and disaffection.

I have an instinctive feeling of why this might be true. The uniformly downtrodden, those with no hope and no expectation of relief from ‘the powers that be’ are less likely to be moved to demand more.

Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950′s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations are related to the possibility revolt but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meet an unexpected slowing in that delivery.  His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.

Here is the point expressed graphically:

daviesJ

So the theory is that as a middle-class emerges from previously marginalised groups, as education and social infrastructure improves, the expectation of improvement begins to outstrip the maximum rate, or the sustainable rate, of real improvement. The first thing that happens is that resistance and dissatisfaction intensifies.

This is one of the many reasons transitions like ours can be scary and unstable. The old ways of doing things and the old, essentially stable, structure is abandoned before what is replacing it has moved in and filled the vacuum and the available space.

We are in the moment when ‘the old’ is gone but ‘the new is not yet born’.

Preface 

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

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

Ten days that shook my world

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is you probably can’t.

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

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

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

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

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what about the Russian people?

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

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

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

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

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

Media freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was looking for a shorthand way of summarising what I thought were the main political risks that are in the minds of investors in South African financial markets.

Note that the emphasis here (in what appears below) is what I think is an appropriate prism for investors in financial markets, and specifically those with an horizon of a maximum of 5-7 years.

If I was looking at broader security issues, particularly with regard to the stability of the state and ruling party, I would have had a significantly different emphasis – and have aspects that are both more negative and more positive than that which appears below. Hopefully, at some time in the future, I will post here a more general threat or risk analysis that would be of more specific relevance to South Africans who hope to live and work here.

Finally, before I get on with it, I do not explore the potential for an upside suprise here … but there does appear to me to be a slight accumulation of good news, albeit against a dark background.

SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks

  • Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions: Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years);
  • Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event: Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium- to-long duration (five to seven years);
  • Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space: Serious risk. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).

Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions

Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years)

What it’s about: Most obvious are new interventions in the mineral and exploration sectors (including new taxes, price setting, beneficiation requirements, export restrictions, uncertainty about licence conditions and significantly increased ministerial discretion via the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill), but there are comparable interventions across the economy, as indicated in the ANC’s Mangaung Resolution and in a range of proposed regulatory and legislative changes, including those relating to telecommunications, liquid fuels,  the labour market, employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment (to name just a few).

My view: Since 1994, it has generally been the case that markets consistently overestimate the risk that the ANC and its government will take significantly populist policy measures. The best example of this was in July 2002, when exaggerated targets for black equity participation in the mining sector where leaked and R52b left the JSE resources sector in 72 hours – a buying opportunity of note. However, the traction Julius Malema was able to achieve with disaffected youth post-2009 and the implicit defection from the ANC and its allies in the platinum strikes last year have catapulted the ANC into something of a policy scrabble. While nationalisation is off the agenda, it has been replaced by a policy push that hopes to deploy private companies, through regulation and other forms of pressure, to achieve government (and party) targets of employment, revenue generation, service delivery to local communities and infrastructure build. Increases in the tax take look likely – it’s purely a question of ‘how much the market can bear’.

Government intervention, per se, is less the issue here but rather the confused, generalised and uncertain nature and intent of the interventions. If the interventions do not have the desired results (growth, employment and equality), the risk is that government does not reassess the wisdom of the intervention, but instead uses a heavier hand.

Financial markets: Policy uncertainty puts downward pressure on investment, employment and output in all sectors. In South Africa, these negative impacts will be felt most keenly by companies most exposed to government licencing and regulatory power, or most exposed to government’s political prioritisation. Resources, telecommunications and agriculture all fall into one, or both, of these categories.

Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event

Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium-to-long duration (five to seven years).

What it’s about: Significant and consistent (apparently linear) growth in service delivery protests, combined with growing levels of industrial unrest (in 2012, anyway) seem to imply that such unrest could continue to escalate until it reaches a point of ‘phase state change’ (as in thermodynamics, referring to changing states of matter – to/from solid, liquid and gas). Thus, the risk is of a sudden systemic shift from unstable to revolutionary/insurrectionary.

My view: Increasing protest and industrial unrest are normal – and fairly consistent – features of South African political life and have been since at least the mid-1970s. Even before 1994 there was no real expectation that unrest would lead naturally to insurrection. A rapid phase state change, like an Arab-spring type event, requires (perhaps indirectly) contesting political formations and ideologies as well as the widespread failure – or absence – of social institutions (parliaments, courts) that direct, mediate and give expression to grievances and/or conflicting group interests. South Africa is rich in such institutions and there is no evidence that large groups of dissenting voices have permanently failed to find expression in society’s normal processes and institutions – even when some of those processes include robust forms of public dispute. However, South Africa does have some comparable features to countries that have had ‘Tunisia-moments’ – including high and growing youth unemployment, high  levels of visible inequality and serious government corruption – so we would keep an eye on the escalating ‘service delivery protest’ trends, as evidenced in graphs from Municipal IQ below.

Municipal IQ

Municipal IQ

Industrial relations unrest is slightly different from – and more negative than – the question of social unrest as a whole. Trade unions are strong and growing in South Africa, and contestation between them is vigorous, even violent – as we saw in the platinum sector in 2012. Trade unions are businesses with an enticing annuity income flow – and this will drive their contestation. The collective bargaining system in South Africa is functioning sub-optimally for a number of reasons – including inappropriately high levels at which automatic recognition kicks in – and the disarray in the system also drives unrest. This conjunction of subjective and objective conditions means I am less sanguine about industrial relations stability (than about stability per se) and expect this to remain a negative investment feature for the next several years. I am specifically negative on public sector industrial relations stability for 2013.

Thus, I do not think unrest and social discord will lead to any radical policy or political discontinuities, but will remain a constant drain on confidence. I also think this phenomenon will tempt government into keeping spending (on the public sector wage bill and on social grants) at above-inflation levels – helping to feed uncertainty and unpredictability in state finances, inflation, the currency and the bond markets.

Additionally, I think labour unrest will remain a seriously destabilising factor of production – including via disruption of services in public sector strikes.

Financial markets:

Resources, agriculture and construction are most exposed through their reliance on large, aggregated and often low-skilled/low-pay labour forces. The financial services and retail are less exposed to (but not immune to) the negative effects of industrial action.

Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space

Serious risk. Medium-likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).

What it’s about: The ruling party is facing something of its own ‘fiscal cliff’. The ANC feels itself in danger of losing some support because of failure to deliver employment growth or adequate reductions in poverty and inequality. Foreign investors agree this is a risk, but will not necessarily agree to fund the gap. This tension is among the reasons that all three major rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded SA’s sovereign rating in 2012 (Fitch in January this year) and both Moody’s and S&P put SA on watch list for future downgrades. The ANC secures political support, at least in part, through spending on the public sector wage bill and on social grants – which together now make up more than half of annual non-interest government spending. Additionally, the ANC has occasionally shown itself hostage to the views of its alliance partners or popular opinion in its spending and revenue plans (Gauteng toll-roads, youth wage subsidy). The ratings agencies don’t like the tension and I expect the bond markets won’t either.

My view: South Africa maintains respectable debt-to-GDP ratios, although these grew to 39% of GDP by end-2012, substantially higher than the 34% for emerging and developing economies as a whole. When Fitch downgraded SA earlier this year, it specifically mentioned concerns about SA’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio, given that the ratio is higher (and rising at a faster pace) than the country’s peers.

South Africa is uniquely (eg in relation to its BRICS peers) exposed to foreign investor sentiment through the deficit on the current account combined with liquid and deep fixed interest markets. SA’s widening deficit on the current account is a specific factor that concerns the rating agencies and is one of the metrics the agencies will use to assess SA’s sovereign risk in the near future. Further downgrades are the risk – potentially driven by foreign investor sentiment about political risks. Non-investment grade (junk bond status) is not an inconceivable future rating.

Financial markets: A significant sell-off in the rand, coupled with persistent currency volatility and reduced foreign capital inflows. Traditionally this scenario would mean investors look for rand hedges and attempt to get exposure to export-orientated sectors, including manufacturing – and to stay out of the bond market. Offshore borrowing costs will be raised for domestic companies – as well as for the country as a whole.  This risk has an internal feedback loop (downgrades make debt more difficult to pay, leading to further downgrades) and naturally feeds other political risks, including in relation to taxation, clumsy government intervention, social stability and property rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Jac Laubscher summarises:

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

“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember kaleidoscopes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.

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

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

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

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

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

Much ado – and confusion – about the ANC policy conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally I publish slides from a current presentation series and here are a few from something I am busy with called: “The Second Transition – SA politics and policy somewhere twixt hither and yon”.

The general idea is the ANC government is determined to move beyond the ‘transitional’ arrangements that it agreed to in 1994 and strike out boldly towards some undefined, but more profoundly transformed future.

I start with a quote from Jeff Radebe at the launch of the ANC discussion documents in early March … which sets the atmosphere of the ANC proposals.

Then, taking some liberties, I summarise what the ANC is “really” (in my humble opinion) saying in motivating the documents:

I then set out on the difficult task of attempting to assess whether the ANC documents actually propose anything as thoroughgoing as the initial motivation implies.

Frankly, the answer is “no”; although the proposals are both worrying in tone and in how contradictory and “bitty” they are.

The best formulated document is the “Maximizing the Developmental Impact of the People’s Mineral Asset: State Intervention in the Minerals Sector (SIMS) – document (get a link to that here). It contains a thoroughgoing set of proposals that change the tax system for mining and propose a complicated set of upstream, downstream and sideways linkages for the industry that will create a new set of burdens and obligations (not all bad) for the mine owners. (My own feeling about mineral resources is that these are “non-renewables” and government is obliged to get the maximum developmental benefit out of them before they are lost forever – but that is just by the way.)

Almost every other document – and there are 12 in  all – meanders between

  • being meaningless wish-lists,
  • statist and authoritarian  blueprints to bully and control and
  • well researched and argued guides to fixing key aspects of what is wrong with our society

Almost all the good stuff is lifted body and soul from the meticulously researched National Development Plan with its focus on the 9 challenges of

  • widespread unemployment
  • ailing infrastructure
  • low standards of education
  • exclusion of the poor from mainstream development
  • a resource dependent economy
  • a failing public health system with a large disease burden
  • inept public service provision
  • widespread corruption and
  • societal divisions.

My presentation itself does not make strong predictions on how far the ANC will get with its deliberations … although what is clear is that policy discussion this whole year will be drowned out by the Mangaung election noise. It is is going to be difficult to ascertain any real direction through the clamour of the struggle to re-elect Jacob Zuma.

Leaving aside all the slides that deal with the actual documents, I do, however conclude by asking some questions of our key players … and I include those slides here for your interest:

As the months go by, I will hopefully have time to flesh out some of those question.

But for now I am in the final days of the road show trying to make sense of  the mess of proposals and hints in the documents, which span issues as diverse as fracking the Karoo, IDZ’s to SEZ’s, the Treasury versus EDD versus DTI, local procurement fantasies, some excellent fixes of BEE from Rob Davies,  the lonely excellence of the Gordhan and Marcus and infrastructure looking more and more like the ANC’s one-trick-pony.

Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that was last week.

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

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

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

Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, he warns:

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

Fourthly he asked us analysts why:

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

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

The Activist Developmental State is an idea I feel deeply ambivalent about.

The picture below of Shanghai in the 1990s and then again last year is from a blog by Roger Pielke, Jr, professor of environment studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado. (Thanks to Anthony for the link and please click on the pic to go to Pielke’s website.)

This stark, and wonderful, portrayal of astonishingly rapid social, environmental and economic change rather raises the question of how it was achieved.

And, more importantly for our provincial purposes here: can we do something similar?

The New Growth Path is a plan to achieve job rich, environmentally friendly,  economic growth while narrowing the Apartheid wage gap.

Saying it is a plan with those intentions says nothing about whether it has any realistic potential of achieving any of its objectives – or of perhaps leading to some unforeseen outcome.

So what did Chinese politicians actually do to “cause” these changes to happen?

Wikepedia says rapid growth came about as a result of the economic reform programme (I have left Wikepedia’s links and notes in there):

Economic reforms began in 1978 and occurred in two stages. The first stage, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, involved the decollectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurs to start up businesses. However, most industry remained state-owned, inefficient and acted as a drag on economic growth. The second stage of reform, in the late 1980s and 1990s, involved the privatization and contracting out of much state-owned industry and the lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations, although state monopolies in sectors such as banking and petroleum remained. The private sector grew remarkably, accounting for as much as 70 percent of China’s GDP by 2005,[4] a figure larger in comparison to many Western nations. From 1978 to 2010, unprecedented growth occurred, with the economy increasing by 9.5% a year. China’s economy became the second largest after the United States.

Leaving aside the obviously important question of whether these changes have led to greater human good, the New Growth Path very clearly and explicitly is going in the opposite direction on some of these issues (privatisation, contracting out, shrinking public sector) but flirts with weakening the rand to stimulate manufacturing and the traded goods sector (a central plank of Chinese growth).

Now I have no idea whether the New Growth Path will cause anything to change.

But my instinct says that the most important thing the state can do is step out of the way and allow damned dammed (damn! – ed) up human potential to find its way to the sea – like is revealed in the pictures of this great city at the mouth of the Yangtze river.

I definitely don’t hold some extreme libertarian view that wants to shrink the state to nothing and leave everything to the magical markets. “The State” is the mechanism by which we achieve all the myriad things we would not be able to achieve individually.

But there is a fundamental choice in approach to the state’s role. Should the state do “the thing” we require to be done or should the state regulate how “the thing” is done by the markets? Many “things” are not immediately profitably so enterprising private individuals do not do them. These things must obviously be done by the state if our democratic processes determine that they are desirable or necessary things do be done. And certain undertakings are too big and complex for one private enterprise. Those things are best done by the state or forms of state that arise through international co-operations.

The New Growth Path, it seems to me, bends the stick the way of the state being required to do more as well as more  regulation of the enterprise of private individuals.

I strongly suspect that this is a step in the wrong directions but I am uncertain enough to be open to persuasion.

Those who know me would expect me to profess that I would rather eat broken glass than say anything sentimental and upbeat for the sake of Christmas cheer.

They would also know that I often fail: that a sort of “jolly hockey-sticks” optimism can sometimes creep into my disposition, that the studiously steely eyes often mist over at the occasional heart-warming story – usually about children, dogs, down trodden people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps (whatever that means) and politicians being hoisted by their own petards or any other suitable handle.

A bit lame I know, but that’s the way it is.

Anyway, nothing too mawkish this time – but still using every edge I can to generate interest.

Craig Tyson, my friend and the fine Editor of that  excellent men’s magazine GQ,  has agreed to my publishing in these humble electronic pages something of mine he has only recently paid for and placed in the December issue of his paper and ink magazine – which also has an excellent website you can catch here.

As I did previously: here is the cover of the GQ. Click on the nose of the gorgeous Gisela Calitz and you will be whipped through to my article arguing that it is, ultimately, unsurprising that political risk increased this year.

Only joking. You can click anywhere on the picture – I momentarily liked the thought of lots of people carefully resting the cursor on her perfect nose and giving it a little click, but I am over it now.

Oh, and buy the magazine. It’s a wonderful gift  for the season of giving … oops.

This is the second of three articles about the New Growth Path (NGP) Framework released last week by the Ministry of Economic Development.

One of the architects (I must assume) of the NGP, Neva Makgetla  (an economist long associated with Cosatu and now deputy director general in the Department of Economic Development) recently examined both the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy and the ‘industrial development plan’ alternative usually advanced (in my opinion) by members of the SACP.

Writing in the September 2010 special issue of the African Communist (journal of the South African Communist Party designed as a forum for Marxist-Leninist thought) Makgetla spells out what she thinks are the problems with both polices are.

Her views of what has gone before are interesting because the new policy tries to marry these frameworks by taking only the best of both.

Someone should have warned them that in policy marriages, as in human ones, you take the good with the bad … but more about that in the third post about the NGP which I will probably only get to by Monday.

The ‘anti-poverty framework’ associated with GEAR

“In effect, the transition to democracy built an implicit social compact: business would retain its property rights, and by extension its wealth and standard of living, while government would use its tax revenues increasingly to address backlogs in services for black communities left by apartheid.”

Makgetla sees the 1996 GEAR policy framework as having left in place the basic structure of the Apartheid economy.

Path dependency meant mining and finance continue to dominate and that property relations and inequality remained unchanged.

But the strategy, according to Makgetla, was attractive to successive ANC governments because it was quick to roll out and provided immediate benefits for the poor (particularly through social grants), while (hopefully) stimulating production and generating employment as the poor consume more goods and services.

“(The major benefit of the strategy) from the standpoint of the state was that it did not require explicit intervention in the economy. It relieved the government of responsibility for transforming the economy, with the associated risks of failure and potential conflict with business. Instead, government could focus on the more agreeable task of improving the lives of constituents through the more conventional public functions of providing basic services and housing.”

The risks were largely in lost opportunity – not achieving “new kinds of economic growth and by extension enhanced employment”. Because the strategy was dependent on state revenues, it was ultimately hostage to the booms and busts of the global economy.

Her key assessments of the policy are:

1. the transfers remained too small to provide the hoped improvement in the conditions of life of the poor and therefore the expected increase in demand and economic stimulation;

2. the relatively strong rand meant that new demand for manufactured goods, especially clothing, appliances and household furnishings was largely met by imports, and

3. the poor were ultimately dis-empowered and demobilised by top-down hand-outs that are central to the strategy.

Industrialisation strategy – SACP alternative

This is the policy proposal that ‘stands in’, in Makgetla’s assessment for the traditional left contribution to the policy debate. It is best revealed, in her opinion, by the Industrial Policy Action Plan (1 and 2) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

These strategies are designed to encourage production of manufactured goods, especially for export.

The industrial strategy has the potential, in her opinion, to access larger markets in order to drive mass based production, which in turn will secure more rapid growth and higher employment.

Crucially, the approach is modelled on the relatively rapid development experienced in Asia especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

The version of the strategy she deals with – which is the version in IPAP2 of the DTI – explicitly requires government to change which parts of “capital” it supports i.e. government would need to collaborate more closely with “industrial capital”, while reducing support for mining, farming and finance.

The state should focus its support on conventional manufacturing especially of capital goods, transport, electronics – and to a lesser  degree “light industries” like clothing, food processing and minerals beneficiation. The policy tends to assume that services and production to meet domestic demand are inherently less competitive “and hence less desirable.”

Makgetla thinks there is high political risk for government in this strategy. The chances of failure in such an unequal society are high and if government adopts a strategy largely dependent on its effective intervention in the economy, it will get the likely flak along with the less likely kudos.

Risk is increased because the strategy is hostage to global demand for manufactured goods and RSA will be competing with China and almost every other developing country that sees this kind of strategy as central to their development path.

Finally, the industrialisation strategy supports long term economic growth but not employment and equity, which are not automatic consequences of growth. It ignores labour intensive activities like agriculture, services and construction and often leads to proposals to hold down wages to support competitiveness – she was prescient about that, but then she did help write the NGP!

On Monday I will spell out more specifically what the NGP proposes to do and I will make an assessment as to whether the policy will ever be implemented by this government and if it is, what it’s likely consequences would be.

If any of you are still with me by then, I will be surprised and you will probably be slightly sick of grandiose government policy making.

This is the first of three articles that look at the political and policy bloodline of the New Growth Path and the main criticisms that have emerged about the policy in the public domain over the last few days.

This first post is a summary – using quotes and paraphrasing – of Ruling Alliance statements about macro-economic policy since 1990.

To understand the policy we have to understand:

  • firstly how the policy fits into the discussion/dog fight in the Alliance over the last 20 years;
  • and secondly the fact that the policy comes from Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, whose department and position, in my opinion, was a last-minute structural compromise to reward Cosatu (and to a lesser degree the SACP) for having backed Jacob Zuma against Mbeki.

So the big bulls (ANC and the SACP) have been butting heads for 20 years (see below) and now the little bull is trying to horn in on the action.

20 years in the trenches of the ideological squabble

Since the release of Mandela from prison in 1990 (and, in fact, well before that – mostly behind closed doors) different factions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have had a sometimes productive and sometimes vicious policy debate about economic policy. At issue has always been the stance the state should take towards private business and the appropriate amount of persuasion and coercion required to achieve redress and redistribution.

The first sign of things to come was the speech Nelson Mandela made on his release from prison in 1990.  After the excerpt from Mandela’s speech I will let the comments flow and tell their own story of the conflict within the Ruling Alliance.

A history of the conflict in quotes and paraphrases

“The nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable”

Nelson Mandela paraphrasing the Freedom Charter on his release from prison in 1990

“We are convinced that neither a commandist central planning system nor an unfettered free market system can provide adequate solutions.”

The 48th ANC National Conference, July 1991 from a conference resolution

“It was a demand-led and internal infrastructural development proposal, which envisaged less immediate concern with budget deficit reduction and inflation.”

African Communist No 147, third quarter 1997 discussing the Macro Economic Research Group’s (MERG’s) proposals from 1993

“Of particular importance was the proposal to restructure the economy by way of a policy of ‘growth through redistribution in which redistribution acts as a spur to growth and in which the fruits of growth are redistributed to satisfy basic needs’. This proposal was predicated on the central policy idea that the state needed to boost demand, primarily by ensuring that greater amounts of income would be received by the poorer sections of the population, which in turn would stimulate output and hence economic growth.”

Dennis Davis in From the Freedom Charter to the Washington Consensus 2002 discussing the RDP proposal of 1993

“Despite its ideology while in opposition, once in power the ANC government implemented an orthodox macroeconomic policy which stressed deficit reduction and a tight monetary policy, combined with trade liberalisation. The stated purpose of this package (the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution programme, or GEAR) was to increase economic growth, with a 4.2% rate programmed for 1996-2000. At mid-term of the programme, growth remained far below this target. The GEAR’s lack of success cannot be explained by unfavourable external factors; rather, the disappointing performance seemed the result of fiscal contraction and excessively high interest rates”

A standard left criticism of GEAR from: Stuck in Low GEAR? Macroeconomic Policy in South Africa, 1996-98 John Weeks Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1999, vol. 23, issue 6, pages 795-811

“Faced with deepening unemployment, poverty, and inequality, and with disappointing growth and investment, the GEAR policy framework has met with persisting criticism from COSATU and the SACP in particular. From the side of its principal proponents within the government, there have been several adjustments in the face of disappointment. Increasingly, GEAR has been redefined as a conjunctural stabilization program and not what its acronym suggested it once aspired to be (a growth, employment and redistribution strategy). In this rereading, GEAR was necessitated by global turbulence and by a very precarious foreign currency reserve situation in 1996. Its “success” is now measured not in terms of growth, employment, and redistribution outcomes, but anecdotally and by way of comparison—“whatever our problems, South Africa’s economy is not in the same predicament as Argentina, or Turkey, or Zimbabwe,” or “GEAR has helped us to survive the worst of global turbulence” (which may not be completely incorrect).”

Jeremy Cronin rephrasing GEAR as a conjectural stabilisation strategy – 1998

In an address to the Socialist International October 2003 and then in various speeches in 2004, Thabo Mbeki argued that solving unemployment, poverty and low levels of black participation in ownership and control of the economy had become very urgent. Further, he argued that to solve these problems an effective, strong and interventionist developmental state was needed – just proving that there is nothing new in heaven and earth. He put the case for improving the public service and extending the state’s influence and ability to lead the economy. “Influence” meant keeping hold of strategic state assets (and therefore a partial withdrawal from the privatisation specified in GEAR) as well as a detailing of micro-reforms including BEE. He placed a strong emphasis on private public partnerships as well as on galvanising a collective consciousness about the “common good”. From this shift the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) was codified in 2005/2006. While it set targets for growth and employment, Asgisa was primarily an infrastructure investment programme combined with various (mostly supply-side) measures to remove impediments to growth – much of which the economy continues to benefit from today.

My own summary of Thabo Mbeki’s initial motivations for AsgiSA

In the lead up to Polokwane this was the definitive statement from ‘the left’ attacking the direction that the Mbeki government had taken: “The post-1996 class project” was led by a “technocratic vanguardist” state with the mission for “a restoration of the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation on a new and supposedly sustainable basis” (as opposed to “a revolutionary … transformation … to resolve the .. contradictions in favour of .. the working class ..”). The document argued that “The post-1996 class project” rests on three pillars: Firstly, the ANC leadership has mistakenly bought into a myth of a gentler, kinder world, but imperialism is stronger and more hostile to popular democracy than ever; secondly, to fit into this world “the second pillar of the project is a powerful presidential centre” that necessarily installs a top state/ leadership group of state managers and ‘technocratically’-inclined ministers and (often overlapping with them) a new generation of black private sector BEE; and finally, the project calls for the organisational modernisation of the ANC … “to transform the ANC from a mobilising mass movement into a ‘modern’, centre- left, electoral party”. There is a “manifest inability of capitalist stabilisation and growth to resolve the deep-seated social and economic crises of unemployment, poverty and radical inequality in our society. The ravages to the ANC’s organisational capacity and coherence (are caused by) “the attempts to assert a managerialist, technocratic control over a mass movement, and in the crises of corruption, factionalism and personal careerism inherent in trying to build a leading cadre based on (explicit or implicit) capitalist values and on a symbiosis between the leading echelons of the state and emerging black capital.”

My paraphrasing of the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document. Bua Komanisi – Volume 5, Issue No1 May 2006 – difficult to read but a perfect summary of the position that exists to this day in the SACP

Then came the answer to the ‘left critique’ from the central ANC leadership: “…the trapeze act here is to co-opt the ANC, formally, as an organisation pursuing socialism; and then condemn it as having betrayed the socialist project”. First, and most importantly the ANC denies that it ever was or should have been an organisation whose objectives was to achieve socialism. The ANC, the document claims, is the organic result of the struggle of black South Africans for national liberation and redress for what they suffered and lost under Apartheid. Additionally the ANC prioritises the poor and the working class. Once this point is made, the ANC argues, all the rest of the SACP critique falls away. The ANC accuses the authors of the SACP document of “ahistoricism, subjectivism and voluntarism”. This is more than just name calling. In the argument of the authors of this document:  ahistoricism refers to the SACP’s alleged  failure to understand what led to the present conditions as well as the character of the historical moment in which they find themselves, subjectivism means that the SACP has used its own preconceptions to guide its views and has seen the world as they wish it to be rather than how it really is; voluntarism  means the SACP believes that through pure force of will, hard work and determination it can achieve socialism in South Africa, whatever limitations the domestic or global environment and balance of forces, especially the strength of global capital markets, impose on possible outcomes.

Managing National Democratic Transformation – ANC response to SACP discussion document – probably the last time the ANC spoke plainly and confidently about economics and the class struggle – 19 June 2006 the official NWC response to the above quoted SACP Central Committee discussion document

The next post will summarise the actual policy contest (from an economists point of view) of the last 15 years. This will essentially be the actual macro-economic policy of the ANC (run from the Treasury) and the SACP’s consistent “industrialisation” alternative (proposed from the Department of Trade and Industry).

I phrase it like that deliberately to suggest that the Department of Economic Development and the New Growth Path Framework represents a new political assertion even if the policy formulation ultimately turns out to be a hodgepodge of previous proposals – as suggested by my summary of Thabo Mbeki’s AsgiSA policy above.

Cosatu has released its long awaited document in which it provides the facts (as it sees them) and theoretical underpinnings for “A Growth Path Towards Full Employment” – and in doing so attempts to align its views with those emanating from Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Department of Economic Planning (the Two Year Strategic Plan) as well as Minister Rob Davies of DTI’s (IPAP2).

Stephen Grootes at the Daily Maverick has done an exemplary quick analysis (catch that here). I am not quite certain I am as gung-ho capitalist as the guys down at the the DM are … although I am as clear as Grootes is that Cosatu’s main planks of policy would turn us into a wasteland in two flicks of a lamb’s tail – as not even my old Granny was prissy enough to say.

I saved a copy of Cosatu’s full document here and hope to give it a more thorough treatment than the cursory skim I gave it in the middle of last night. Whatever I conclude will be faithfully reported on these pages.

Here is the summary of South Africa’s performance in the Global Competitiveness Report 2010 – 2011. The highlights are mine and the seriousness of the problems is obvious..

While we quite rightly bemoan health, education and labour market failures it is interesting to note we were top ranked – in the whole world! – in two categories: in auditing and reporting standards as well as in the regulations that govern our securities (financial instruments) exchanges.

But on with the bad news: part of the process of the construction of the report involves asking the opinion of “business leaders” (see note below about methodology) about their concerns. The top four concerns they had about South Africa are not a huge surprise:

From a list of 15 factors, respondents were asked to select the five most problematic for doing business in their country and to rank them between 1 (most problematic) and 5. The bars in the figure show the responses weighted according to their rankings.

Methodology note from the press release: “The rankings are calculated from both publicly available data and the Executive Opinion Survey, comprehensive annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum together with its network of Partner Institutes (leading research institutes and business organizations) in the countries covered by the study. This year, over 13,500 business leaders were polled in 139 economies.”

Click here for a link to the full report.

The quarterly Labour Force Survey from Statistics SA is a timely reminder of what really matters when assessing political risk associated with investing in South Africa.

Julius Malema’s predations,  Jacob Zuma’s extraordinary sex life, Cosatu’s and the SACP’s millennial economics would just be irritating noise, unless they relate to the country’s chronic levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality – and the racial overlay of the same.

Think of society as a complex system and unemployment, poverty and inequality as deep tectonic stresses that honeycomb and hollow out the underpinnings and foundations of the system. As the stresses grow so does the potential for catastrophic events.

South Africa has the highest jobless rate of the 62 counties tracked by Bloomberg and the unemployment rate rose for a fourth consecutive quarter in the first three months of this year – that’s a 1.3% contraction in employment or the loss of 171 000 jobs in that period. The following graph shows the general trend – and also demonstrates slight seasonal increases in the fourth quarters of 2008 and 2009, the result of the obvious stimulations from the holiday season and the rush to get things done.

Employment contracted in all industries but Agriculture, Private Households, Transport and Community and Social Services.

Read this alongside these points:

  1. More than 50% of South Africans live within the most common definitions of “poverty” or “below the poverty line”,
  2. South Africa has dropped approximately 30 places in the UN’s  Human Development Indicators index (to 125) since 1990;
  3. South Africa shares with Brazil and a few other Latin American countries the highest measures of inequality (the “Gini-coefficient“) in the world.

Add to this the dismal outcomes of Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment and you have a system shot through with instability.

When we worry about the ANC and its performance – and the increasingly profound failures of its key leaders –  when we worry about State Owned Enterprises like Eskom being hijacked by a predatory new elite, when we worry about the collapse of governance and service delivery in poor townships; our worry is actually about the impact on the deep, underlying trends in unemployment, poverty and inequality- and the possibility of fixing these problems.

When the bombast coming from the political and economic elite draws the national focus away from the real issues and challenges, then the trouble we are in becomes more threatening and more concerning to investors.

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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