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Listening to the EFF be the rock against which Zuma’s blithe refusal to account finally dashed itself yesterday I felt briefly elated.
Gangsters! Bashi-bazouks! Yes, PAY BACK THE MONEY! PAY BACK THE MONEY! Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles!
But after a moment’s reflection I pulled myself, by the ear, back into the vehicle.
“You irresponsible old twit!” I said, my mind drifting back to this blog post from August 24 2010:
Waiting for a saviour to rise from these streets*
Just when all hope flees, as the last good politician still within government leaves his/her post to join the feeding frenzy and as the last decent officials trying to do a public service throw up their hands in disgust; and as the striking workers blockade the last functional HIV/AIDS clinic and trash the streets again; and as the broken bits of the Ruling Alliance go for the kill in their eye gouging, groin stamping gutter fight – just as all hope flees, whose silhouette is it that appears, backlit and heroic, flying in low over the horizon?
Is it a plane?
Is it a bird?
No, it’s … hmm, I’m not really sure.
When things are going as badly wrong as they are going for us, the person to look out for is the one who seems to have been sent by history itself as the solution to all of our problems.
I am not suggesting, as my old Granny used to say: don’t worry, cometh the moment, cometh the man or all’s well that ends well. I am suggesting the very opposite.
This is more of a warning to be careful about decisions we make when we are desperate than it is anything else.
Societies, political parties and whole nations are uniquely vulnerable at times like these. Our desperate need is for someone who can raise an anti-corruption army, is prepared to control the unions, able to fix service delivery and able to make the difficult decisions that will allow job rich economic growth.
The darker and more dire things become – and goodness knows they are as dark and dire as anyone can remember – the stronger our wish fulfilment drive becomes.
Where is the good-looking one, with the strong jaw and the easy, comforting manner, and the very firm but gentle eye and the plan and the promise and the words – and the record, or at least one you can, in your desperation, convince yourself of?
This is the moment in which nice Germans welcomed Adolf Hitler and Spaniards General Franco. King Constantine II of Greece inducted the awful “Regime of the Colonels” in 1967 saying he was “certain they had acted in order to save the country” and there was a (brief) Argentinian sigh of relief when Brigadier-General Jorge Videla overthrew the execrable, incompetent and authoritarian regime of “Evita” – as popular culture has dubbed Isabel Martínez de Perón.
I am not suggesting that a fascist opportunist and criminal is about to present him or herself as the saviour from our woes – or that things are so bad that we risk losing our judgement and welcoming him/her into the stockade. Well, not yet.
But explicitly and implicitly various political factions and individuals have presented themselves as alternatives, and the solution to our current problems.
There’s Zwelinzima Vavi – and whatever kind of workerist paradise he represents – who heroically criticised the media appeals tribunal and has laid about himself with a stout cudgel at all the worst of the cabinet ministers and officials trying to stuff the last tasty bits of the family roast into their distended bellies. And he’s available next year.
Deputy Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula suggested (of criminals) we should “shoot the bastards!” and in so doing presents a kind of law-and-order (and anti-communist) alternative, clearly being supported by the ANC Youth League and tenderpreneurs everywhere.
Lindiwe Sisulu dresses nicely and would be excellent if we ever panicked enough to need a kind of Cleopatra/Boadicea empress to save us.
Tokyo Sexwale is getting the kind of press that suggests he is an effective anti-corruption campaigner and an excellent Minister of Human Settlements i.e. he’s clean and gives good service delivery – and he’s bright, presentable, charming, good-looking and available – very available.
(This added as an afterthought: don’t discount Kgalema Motlanthe as a sort of leftish compromise that we have grown used to and, obviously, Mathews Phosa with his charming Afrikaans poetry and his friendly demeanour and his market friendly comments and his bitter struggle with ANC leader and communist Gwede Mantashe. Also consider a scenario, one I discuss elsewhere, where none of the contending factions achieves dominance and everyone agrees to stick with the burdensome incumbent … all is still possible.)
The National General Council of the African National Congress (to be held in Durban from 20 – 24 September) will reveal the main factions and their key representatives for leadership. The last NGC resulted in a rebellion against Mbeki and foretold his rout at Polokwane. This one is likely to be as instructive.
The point I wish to make here is a simple one. Those who appear to offer solutions must be judged in terms of who they are, what they have done and what they really represent. Just because we are in trouble does not mean we can afford to lose our critical faculties. My long gone Granny would have had two more things to say on the subject: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.
* The title of this post comes from the glorious “Thunder Road” by the inimitable Bruce Springsteen (it doesn’t really fit the story … but I really love the song:
You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now Im no hero
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
I intend, in the near future, to dust off my Marxist theory.*
I am going to need a framework through which to express my growing conviction that much of our politics can be understood as a function of the collapse of the alliance of classes that underlay the national democratic revolution – and the African National Congress.
The big driver is the strongly emergent black middle class – or perhaps competing versions of that class. In the background is a sort of bad kung fu movie fight scene involving the industrial working class, various parasitic elites within the state and party, a comprador bourgeoisie and a whole mess of tribalists, proto-fascists, landless peasants and lumpen proletarians of various stripe.
(The camera occasionally flicks across the deeper shadow behind, where we almost catch a glimpse of Moeletsi Mbeki’s lurking oligarchs, watching us.)
It’s my job to have some kind of understanding of what is going on … and I will need all the help I can get theory-wise.
In the last week the ANC has given strong hints that the Labour Relations Act amendments are being held up because government wants balloting prior to strikes and a ‘forced mediation’ strike-breaking mechanism. (See here.)
Also we have the astonishing re-emergence of the (excellent) idea that we should break up Eskom and sell off some of the bits and get the private sector to build other bits. (See here … and btw I can’t help but notice how much interesting news is written by Carol Paton of Business Day.)
What’s going on?
Well, one things is government is facing further downgrades because it can’t pay its bills.
The biggest bill of all is public sector wages, which will be renegotiated before the current wage agreement expires in March 2015.
That bill will represent above 35% of non-interest government spending and the wage level the employer and the employee eventually agree upon and the degree of disruption that accompanies the bargaining is extraordinarily important for South Africa and therefore for the stability of the governing party.
Also government is burning due to its apparent inability to get the endlessly promised infrastructure built. At least part of the reason is the constant labour stoppages, for example at Kusile and Medupi.
Having lost much revenue (and political support) during the recent strikes led by Amcu and Numsa, the ANC government is forced to find a way to rewrite the terms of engagement between employer and employee.
Also Eskom is bleeding … or potentially bleeding … government dry.
The case for privatisation is threefold: you get money from the asset sale to pay your debts, you don’t have to keep bailing out the loss-making enterprise and you get the ‘efficiencies’ (the removal of structural impediments to growth) that supposedly come from the private sector running the enterprise.
(As an aside: privatisation seldom works quite like that. This government, and the people of South Africa, have barely recovered from the the drubbing we received from the ‘private sector’ following the partial privatisation of Telkom in the 90’s. But desperate times, desperate measures … and all of that.)
The groups that traditionally oppose these policies are in disarray. Cosatu has essentially collapsed in a heap – and the most energetic sections of organised labour are actively hostile to government/ANC anyway and no longer require wooing … or rather, following Marikana and various statements of outright hostility by the ANC and government leaders, are no longer susceptible to those old sweet lies.
The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.
A growing mystery to me is where the SACP is in all of this?
So its all: hello 1996-class project, we who threw you out with the bathwater at Polokwane in December 2007 would like to apologise and welcome you back. Don’t worry, the communist are in China learning how to deal with corruption and with the labour force … you can chat to them if they ever come home.
So meanwhile here is a sort of ancestor to my questioning the ‘class character’ of the moment; a column I wrote for the Compliance Institute of South Africa in November last year:
Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?
I admit that on the face of it the comparison seems something of a stretch.
For example I can’t think of an ‘Nkandla’ equivalent in Baroness Thatcher’s world – although her son seemed to benefit from parental political power in much the same way as Jacob Zuma’s myriad offspring seem to be enjoying.
The point, though, is Thatcher came to power with the reforming mission to roll-back back the influence of organised labour and to make labour markets more flexible– all as part of her attempt to stop an on-going recession, bring summer to the ‘Winter of discontent’ (paralysing wage strikes by public sector unions in Britain in 1978-1979) and increase employment and economic growth.
(‘Thatcherism’ as a political-economic ideology is also considered to include attempts to keep inflation low, shrink the state – by privatising state owned enterprises – and keep a tight rein on money supply … (and is not famously concerned about employment – Ed) … but let’s leave those details aside and stick with the matter of organised labour.)
Much to my surprise there is growing evidence Jacob Zuma is forcing a showdown within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – and between the members of the ruling alliance (the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu).
Since 1994 it has been a good bet that tensions in the ruling alliance would flare up and then subside – but that the constituent ideological factions and organisations would always back off from a real split.
The ruling alliance has always seemed to me like a vaguely unhappy marriage that none of the parties have the resources or discipline to leave.
I have been covering South African politics and financial markets since 1997 and in 1999 I commissioned this cartoon :
The original caption read: ‘She means nothing to me’, he pleaded unconvincingly. ‘You’re the one I will always love’.
The report that accompanied the cartoon – which I originally published for the then stockbroker Simpson Mckie James Capel – made it clear that the man in the middle represented the ANC and his entreaties were addressed to Cosatu and the SACP … while his real passion (and the furtive fumbling behind his back) was for business, global and domestic. (Cathy Quickfall drew the cartoon and did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.)
It has looked for many years as if the dysfunctional relationship would continue for ever – that the parties involved (both the institutions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu but also the myriad ideological factions that exist across those organisations) have more to gain from being inside and more to lose from being outside.
But, surprisingly, it appears that the ruling faction within the ANC (the incumbent leadership, represented by Jacob Zuma) appears to have finally drawn some kind of line in the sand with the ‘left’ unions within Cosatu, most obviously the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
The first signs that this was happening appeared when evidence surfaced that Jacob Zuma’s allies within Cosatu were moving against Zwelinzima Vavi, the now suspended secretary general and strident ‘left’ critic of corruption in the ANC and critic of the slightly more business-friendly economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) of the Zuma government … (remembering that this was written late last year and Vavi has now been reinistated … sort of – Ed).
At first it appeared that Vavi would be got rid of by being accused of corruption or some form of financial mismanagement related to the sale of Cosatu House for a price less than it was worth. While that investigation was still on-going, Vavi handed his enemies a perfect excuse to suspend him by having sex with a junior employee in the Cosatu head-office earlier this year (last year – Ed).
Since the suspension of Vavi his allies in Cosatu, especially the biggest affiliate (the 350 000 member Numsa) has been on a collision course with both Cosatu itself and with the ANC.
The conflict is likely to come to a head at the Numsa special congress to be held on December 13 – 16.
Why do I see this as, partly, Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?
Well, Vavi’s suspension is only the proximate cause of the impending collision. The ‘real’ or ‘underlying’ causes are what are important.
Vavi, Numsa secretary general Irwin Jim, his deputy Karl Cloete – and probably a majority of Numsa leaders and shop stewards … and several other groups and leaders within Cosatu) appear increasingly of the opinion:
- that Cosatu has been bullied by the Zuma leadership into accepting policy positions with which it (generally) disagrees
- that the ANC under Zuma has attempted to turn Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC and the alliance summits have become nothing but a ‘toy telephone’ rather than a real joint decision making forum for the ANC/Cosatu/SACP alliance
- the policy positions with which this group disagrees are, particularly, the National Development Plan, but also e-tolling, the Youth Wage Subsidy and the ANC government’s failure to ban labour brokers. (The reasons why this ‘left’ group opposes these policy measure are crucial: they oppose the NDP because it is seen as ‘neo-liberal’ and anti-socialist; e-tolling because it is seen as covert privatisation of public infrastructure; the youth wage subsidy because it segments the labour market, threatening Cosatu’s monopoly and potentially exposing ‘protected’ Cosatu members to competition from ‘unprotected’ youth workers; and the failure to ban labour brokers because those institutions are also anathema to Cosatu’s monopoly.)
- that the ANC under Zuma has been captured by a crony-capitalist regionally based (possibly ethnic) elite bent on looting the state
- that the gamble to back Zuma against Mbeki has badly misfired
There is widespread press and analyst speculation that the tensions within Cosatu could lead to the federation splitting – and in some way or another the more specifically ‘socialist’ pro-Vavi, Numsa-based group leading Cosatu – or a piece of Cosatu – out of the ruling alliance.
In what way is this ‘Zuma doing a Maggie’?
Well, because the disgruntlements of the Vavi/Numsa group (described above) are real and represent significant shifts against organised labour by the Zuma government.
If we add to the youth wage subsidy, the NDP, the failure to ban labour brokers, e-tolling in Gauteng to the very tight budgeting for public sector wage increases mentioned in my October column I think we have a strong circumstantial case that Zuma’s ANC has moved decisively to roll-back the power of organised labour.
Why Jacob Zuma and his allies might have done this is revealed clearly in the anaemic Q3 GDP growth figures of 0.7 per cent compared to the previous quarter, or 1.8 per cent on a year-on-year basis . Almost across the board analysts and economists have ascribed most of the weakness to labour unrest, particularly in the motor vehicle sector – where the recent strikes were organised by Numsa! (Again, remember that this was written in November last year … just imagine how many exclamation marks he would have used if he had written that sentence today? -Ed)
Numsa has also helped plague Eskom’s flagship Medupi project – and has undoubtedly contributed to government’s infrastructure plans looking shaky.
The ANC’s motivation is not purely an attempt to fix economic growth – and bring to an end our own ‘Winter of Discontent’. Vavi and his allies in Numsa have harried and harassed the ANC leadership over corruption – and particularly the upgrade to Nkandla – and this has clearly helped force the hand of the Zuma ANC to drawn a line in the sand with the left-wing of Cosatu – especially as the ANC enters an election and struggles to cope with this level of internal dissent and criticism.
The resignation earlier this week of Numsa president Cedric Gina (who, unlike the majority of his Numsa colleagues, is close to the current ANC leadership: his wife is an ANC MP and he probably has similar ambitions himself) is probably an indication that the Zuma/ANC allies intend contesting Numsa’s direction in the lead-up to the Numsa special congress in December. The ANC leadership has probably decided to fight it out in Numsa – and Cosatu more generally – making sure that if/when a split occurs the faction that sticks with the ANC/Zuma/SACP is as large as possible and the faction that defects is as small as possible.
The big risk for investors and financial markets associated with a possible split in Cosatu is that Vavi/Jim group is likely to contest with unions within Cosatu that currently support the ANC and Zuma’s leadership – most obviously and most unsettlingly – with the National Union of Mineworkers which has complained repeatedly that Numsa is poaching its membership. This potential for a widespread contestation of each workplace and each economic sector between a new ‘Cosatu’ and an old ‘Cosatu’ is probably the most important threat represented by the unfolding crisis.
Politically the Vavi/Jim group will likely be campaigning against the NDP, the youth wage subsidy, e-tolling and Nkandla-style corruption just as the ANC’s election campaign peaks early next year. I do not think a split in Cosatu will translate automatically into specific electoral declines for the ANC – it is possible and even likely that Numsa members who support a split could still vote for the ANC.
However, one of the big unanswered questions is whether the defecting faction has any possibility of linking up politically with the EFF. Up until now the defecting faction linked to Vavi and Jim have unequivocally rejected the EFF on the grounds that its (the EFF’s) leadership are ‘tenderpreneurs’ (much like the Nkandla faction of the ANC) who just happen to be out in the cold.
However, the EFF’s support for nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white owned farms with or without compensation does dovetail with aspects of the Vavi/Jim faction’s essentially socialist ideology.
My own view is that in the event of a split it is possible that the Vavi/Jim faction forms a ‘labour party’ which could only feasibly contest elections in 2019.
The motivation for Thatcher moving against the unions was as much about weakening the Labour Party as it was about repairing the economy – so we shouldn’t dismiss the Zuma/Thatcher comparison purely because his motivations are mixed.
If Zuma and the ANC succeed in reducing the militancy and power of organised labour it is possible that they will have contributed in a small way to laying the grounds for an improvement in public education, for a period of recovery and even extended economic growth.
It’s a risky – and complicated – business, but it was for Baroness Thatcher as well.
* It was, in our eyes, a fine hat and we cocked it jauntily. And thus attired, and to our very great satisfaction, we successfully answered all the important epistemological questions of the day. We let the cowards flinch and traitors sneer as they boastfully proclaimed the end of history. We were history … or at least, through the complex functioning of the intelligentsia in Marxist Leninist theory … we were history’s engine made flesh. And the race wasn’t over … we were merely getting our breath back.
A couple of asides as I tinker away at a framework for assessing Sunday’s Cabinet announcement.
The media noise surrounding Helen Zille’s putative attitude towards Lindiwe Mazibuko is interesting, but largely because it is so loud.
In the last hour I have been asked twice (by journalists) for an opinion on Mmusi Maimane‘s acceptance of nomination to the position of DA Parliamentary Leader.
Not long ago I would have (privately) filed news of DA power-struggles and leadership changes under ‘white mischief’ and forgotten about it – confident that no client or journalist would ask for an opinion.
Real politics, the stuff that actually made a difference to legislative or regulatory outcomes, happened within the Tripartite Alliance or in the interactions between the ANC and business.
I think that was a useful shorthand that saved me time in the past, but clearly I will have to break the habit.
The Alliance no longer contains its own opposition – and is therefore no longer the primary site of politics.
The EFF, Amcu, whatever Numsa finally initiates and the DA all (healthily in my view) strip out a sort of multi-polar disorder from the ANC.
Politics will now (tend to) happen where it is meant to: on the streets and in parliament … and not where it previously tended to happen: in back room deals and as a result of other shenanigans in the ANC-led alliance.
There is an obvious trade-off between clarity of government policy/structure and the broadness of the ANC’s alliances. As those alliances break or simplify or are otherwise transformed I expect some kind of dividend for governance and economic policy.
If I might add …
Another habit of thought I might soon have to break is my instinctive intellectual pessimism about politics.
By ‘pessimism’ I do not mean an automatic assumption that politician are corrupt or incompetent.
What I mean is that I tend to think that politics changes little in the world, but that the world changes the politics.
I think this might make me some kind of market fundamentalist. I am certain that to grow, the DA will have to become more like the ANC – in its policy and in the class and racial character of its leadership.
The assumption (and maybe error) I make is believing that the electorate purely aggregates the interests of broad groups of people and the political parties are compelled to reflect the character and interests of those groups.
So my ‘habit of thought” is that I assume that for a party to grow it will necessarily become more generic and bland.
Why this is ‘pessimistic’ (and I hope incorrect) is I tend to assume that our politics increasingly changes nothing (except to the negative) and parties endlessly drift towards a sort bland and generic centre in response to the ‘market’ of the bland and generic voters.
No wonder I was a secret reader of P J O’Rourke. He once observed in his normal right-wing, smug but hilarious way:
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
Why this is a bad habit
I worry that my instinctive attitude is a potentially serious error. I can see how this ‘political pessimism’ might be a useful short cut in relatively homogeneous and stable first-world countries.
The main parties in those countries blur into each other.
But recession and unemployment, even in those countries, is inevitably accompanied by a growing divergence in the political arena – a shrinking of the centre and growth of radical nationalists and/or populists.
Surely this is a better permanent model for understanding South Africa?
I suspect our calm transition and the stable predictability of the ANC and it’s comfortable electoral majority might have lulled me into a false sense of security.
Who could not smile at the jaunty red boiler-suits, gumboots and maid’s outfits adorning the mostly young EFF members being sworn in to parliament yesterday?
I am delighted the EFF are there and I think it is healthy for our politics that the ANC will have to contest with the EFF in the minds of voters and in the national and provincial assemblies.
Rather that than the nodding and winking and/or furious factional splits that have gone on up until now in the closed shop of the ANC.
But it should be front of mind that the ANC has to answer the challenge of the DA and of the EFF.
The ANC still has a safety margin and room for manoeuvre, but party leaders will have heard the howls in the night and are unlikely to just sit back staring into the fire hoping for the best.
I am up to my neck in it, trying to tease out the main implications and trends of the election – in a way that might be useful to investors in our financial markets.
As part of the process I read everything I can find that has been written about the elections. I have just read the Sunday Independent to see what the journalists and columnists had to say and I came across something that I felt I needed to share; and social media granted me immediate gratification.
Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary of the SACP, wrote a column assessing the election under the title “No room for complacency for ANC and alliance partners”.
Cronin is always good value and worth reading and today he was especially feisty.
Opposition emerging to the left of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance is an important matter for anyone who has an interest in how South African politics will progress. And Cronin deals with this question as part of his election assessment.
Cronin’s tone reminds me of the sectarian and slightly Stalinist tendencies that I was very much part of throughout the 80’s … and I felt almost nostalgic when he characterised the threats from the left thusly:
Will a serious left challenge now come from outside the ANC alliance? It’s possible, but only if we in the ANC alliance are clumsy or arrogant. We need to distinguish the proto-fascist demagogy of Malema from the hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionism of Irvin Jim, from the ethnically-tinged vigilantism of the Amcu leadership, from the preachy capitalist philanthropy of Jay Naidoo and Mamphela Ramphele.
I wanted to follow that with a few exclamation marks. It’s funny and it has a certain poetic rolling cadence that left me smiling … for a few seconds.
Until I realised that the trick Cronin has pulled here is he has created a sort of ideological bestiary and placed within it every conceivable left critic of the ANC and the SACP.
If you are a left critic of the ANC, SACP, Cosatu alliance then you are either a proto-fascist demagogue or a hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionist, or you might be an ethnically-tinged vigilante or even a preachy capitalist philanthropist. You certainly couldn’t be a principled socialist of some kind, because then you would be in the ANC/SACP /Cosatu. Dah!
“Clumsy or arrogant”?
The article is worth reading because it gives a mostly subtle and thoughtful assessment of the election from an insiders view, but is, as you can see from the excerpt, occasionally entertainingly clumsy and arrogant.
After fiddling around a bit, I found it at IOL.com. Read it, it is here.
(Part of this is from a news update I published for the clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities on Monday – 07/04/2014. Thanks as always to them for allowing me to republish here a few days later. None of opinions expressed here are those of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities.)
- Nigeria’s GDP rebasing is normal and welcome – for South Africans as well as foreign investors. Reading some of the media coverage, however, one might have thought a grave threat to South Africa’s sovereign interests had suddenly arisen somewhere in the north on Sunday morning
- HIV infection rates are up and caution and prevention are down in South Africa – a more serious matter than how Nigeria estimates the size of its economy
- Cosatu and Vavi’s brief reprise will both be threatened at this week’s Central Executive Committee meeting. The quicker and more fundamental the impending split, the better
- Noisy nation – Nkandla is actually most relevant for the “screaming and shouting at the powers that be” and is a sign of rude health – John Carlin in City Press (06/04/2014)
- South African’s irritating sense of ‘exceptionalism’
Nigeria’s rebased GDP sets off anxious (and defensive) flutters and finger wagging at SA from global and domestic media outfits
The issue that made the biggest media impact on the weekend happened on Sunday, too late for the main weeklies. Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s GDP for 2013 was 80.22 trillion naira (between $509.9 billion and $477.98 billion depending on what value you give to the naira) and not the 42.3 trillion naira previously estimated. Nigeria had last assessed the size of its economy in1990 and has long realised it needed to add previously uncounted industries like telecommunications, IT, banking, insurance, music, airlines, online retail and the vibrant Nollywood film industry.
Not unexpectedly the announcement set off a flood of global media commentary (and local hand-wringing and defensiveness) about the sad state of the South African economy, which prior to the announcement ‘had’ Africa’s largest GDP at about $353 billion.
The Wall Street Journal Online (06/04/2014) probably had the most representative coverage:
“Nigeria’s ascendance marks a validation for foreign companies diving into Africa’s riskier markets, where populations are young and growing fast.”
“For South Africa, losing its status as Africa’s top economy is more than a symbolic blow. Pretoria has used its position on the continent to argue for inclusion at the table of the world’s most powerful nations. It joined the G-20 in 1999 and the “Brics”—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—in 2010. It has also campaigned for a U.N. Security Council seat.”
The article discusses Nkandla and South Africa’s anaemic growth (and Eskom’s wet coal) but also points out that South Africa has the continent’s best infrastructure and that it produces 10 times more electricity than Nigeria for a population one third the size.
A more salient point came from several Al-Jazeera interviews with Nigerians, best summarised by Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives: “Is the money in your bank account more on Sunday than it was on Saturday? If you had no job yesterday, are you going to have a job today? If the answer … is ‘no’, then this is an exercise in vanity.”
Equally, the myriad problems in the South African economy were no worse on Sunday than they were on Saturday. Will Nigeria’s rebasing create more urgency amongst South African policy makers? I doubt it.
HSRC update on HIV/AIDS in South Africa is concerning
The Human Sciences Research Council has released research that indicates that the proportion of South Africans infected with HIV has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2012 and that the total number of infected South Africans now stands at 6.4 million, 1.2 million more than in 2008.
The table below indicates HIV prevalence in females (a) and males (b) by age in South Africa in 2008 and in 2012 (South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012 – xxvi of the Executive Summary):
Provincially, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence (16.9%) and the Western Cape the lowest (5%). There were 469 000 new infections in the country in 2012.
HIV/AIDS was a significant area of risk associated with investing in South Africa in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and the disease radically lowered life expectancy in the country (from 62 years in 1990 to 50 years in 2007 – StatsSA). The impacts on consumption, the price of labour and pressures on social infrastructure were endlessly explored in research reports, also by this analyst.
There have been admirable increases in treatment levels (especially by government, but supported by non-governmental organisations) but significant declines in condom use and knowledge about the disease (particularly amongst young people) and recent increases in infection rates imply that the availability of treatment might be leading to complacency and a reversal of some of those gains. Watch this space.
Cosatu has a week of the long knives ahead – which is mostly a good thing
As it happens there was a considerable amount of drawing-back-from-the-edge this week raising interesting questions about the role of Ramaphosa and of Vavi … but I will explore that next week. Meanwhile here is the Monday comment, without retractions:
On Friday the South Gauteng High Court set aside Cosatu suspension of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on technical grounds. “While the CEC of Cosatu was authorised to suspend Vavi” said Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo, “it failed to comply with the constitution of Cosatu in that they did not vote whereas the constitution expressly called for a vote.”
This is obviously not a crushing victory in Vavi’s favour, but it does lay the grounds for some sort of final showdown at Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting that starts tomorrow morning. (It would be a relatively simple matter for the CEC to vote to suspend Vavi … and it might do this and add suspending or expelling Numsa into the bargain.)
Cosatu is fundamentally split between two broad factions.
One faction, centred around Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, oppose key elements of ANC economic policy on the grounds that the policy (particularly the NDP) is ‘pro-business’ and fails to adequately address the needs of workers and the poor. Further, this faction has expressed itself in very clear language against what it sees as the abuse of public resources for personal gain by key ANC and government leaders, including Jacob Zuma. This faction wants a formal Cosatu break with the ruling alliance and has hinted at its intention to establish a socialist workers party at some time in the future.
The other faction – essentially the incumbent Cosatu leadership including its president S’dumo Dlamini – is attempting to keep as much of Cosatu as possible within the alliance with the ANC and is, essentially, loyal to the incumbent leadership of the ANC.
The tensions that are expressed in this split have been present since Cosatu’s formation in Durban in 1986. The fact that the underlying political and ideological divisions are coming to a head now is not primarily because the ANC or government leadership is more corrupt that previously and certainly not because ANC economic policy is more pro-business than previously. The ANC and government’s adoption of the National Development Plan (as well as government’s promulgation of both the youth wage subsidy and Gauteng e-tolling, against Cosatu’s explicit and bitter opposition) has forced the underlying division into the light but the division was eventually going to be exposed anyway, as the sentimental glue of ‘the struggle’ gradually dissolved through exposure to the (famous) ‘ravages of time’ and the accumulation of normal, difficult, choices all governments must make between ‘national’ as opposed to ‘sectional’ interests.
(Gosh, that is a long sentence – Ed)
The bright light that Vavi and Numsa shine on corruption is welcome (but not untainted by other political considerations) and a healthy part of our democracy. This faction heading into the wilderness to set up a ‘left’ or socialist party would also be an expression of maturity – as well as a welcome release of the ANC from the tiresome shackles of its increasing anachronistic alliance with a trade union federation.
Nkandla in perspective
The Sunday papers are invariably a tiresome chore to read with only a handful of articles making it worth the effort. This week John Carlin (best known for his excellent writing about politics and soccer) dealt with the Nkandla scandal in a manner that brought some blessed relief.
In an article entitled “Noisy Nation” he delightfully describes the health of the South African democracy thusly: “The amount of screaming, shouting and booing at the powers that be, the furious debates between political parties and old and new trade unions, the daily revelations in the press, the hyperventilating opinion columns: it is all music to the ears, a sign of political health – just as a new born baby’s screaming is a sign of physical health.”
Among the welcome reminders he brings is that South Africa is a new democracy with regard to peer comparisons and that freedom of expression and levels of public debate compare very favourably:
“At 20 years old, it (South Africa) has barely emerged from adolescence and is still seeking its identity, finding its bearings in the world. The parents, by which I mean (stretching the metaphor a bit) successive ANC governments, are not a model of maturity themselves, but they have had the wisdom and moral coherence not to do as governments have done in other countries that arrived at democracy at roughly the same time, such as Russia. They have not locked up political opponents or murdered overinquisitive members of the press.”
Well, not yet and not that we know of, but the point is well made and well taken.
An aside on our irritating exceptionalism
(Not published as part of the original note.)
In addition to the wonderful ‘noisy, healthy nation’ point, Carlin takes a carefully balanced and nuanced shot at South Africans’s tendency to believe both that we are uniquely victimised by a history and that we were miraculously saved by rare and unusually heroic individuals.
I would much prefer you to read the whole of Carlin’s article as it appears on City Press’s website – here is a link – but for those who are unable to do this I am going to take the liberty of publishing the introductory paragraphs to the article – so that some of Carlin’s nuances are preserved:
A South African lawyer was in New York in the late 1980s to deliver a paper on apartheid’s crimes.
Before his turn came, he heard speakers from Latin America tell their tales of horror and realised, with a sinking feeling, that he could not compete.
The man from Argentina spoke about the torture and disappearance of 15 000 people, most of them grabbed from their homes.
The one from El Salvador spoke about the 30 000 killed by the state death squads at the rate of 1 000 a month.
Worst of all, the one from Guatemala shared similarly prolific rates of assassination, plus army units that routinely burnt entire villages to the ground.
Yes, in South Africa you had death squads killings, but not on an industrial scale.
Yes, when I arrived in South Africa in 1989 you had some 30 000 activists detained without charge.
But as I pointed out to the lawyer, in El Salvador those 30 000 would have been dead.
As for Nelson Mandela, the notion that his equivalent in Guatemala would have been tried in court and then spared the hangman’s noose was, in a grim sort of way, laughable.
I knew about these things. I had spent from 1979 to 1989 in South and Central America.
By contrast, South Africa’s political climate struck me as mild; the space for political expression, relatively free.
From the day I arrived in South Africa, I never came across a black person afraid to express his or her view.
I am not being frivolous about the suffering black South Africans endured under apartheid.
It was, as Mandela once said, “a moral genocide”, an attempt to systematically exterminate an entire people’s self-respect.
It was also a brazen affirmative action programme for white people, the inevitable downside of which was that those born with darker skins were condemned to lives deprived of economic opportunity.
It was uniquely evil. Well, almost.
In Guatemala, the 75% of the population who were of Mayan origin, were treated with at least equal contempt by the rich and powerful, who then dispatched battalions of Eugene de Kocks to terrorise them into submission.
I was struck in a similar way when I visit Serbia some time ago. This is what I said, also about South African ‘exeptionalism’, at the time (here for the original post)
It (the suffering in the region) started with the Celts invading the “Paleo-Balkan tribes” … who in their turn were replaced by an endless Roman occupation; sacked by Attila the Hun in 442 and then one thousand five hundred years of bloody, impossible to follow conquest, resistance, sacking, rapine, pillage … I could go on and on … (and you do – Ed.)
And of course, that is only before the First World War, and as you know all the important stuff happened since then.
I know our African and South African histories are important and it is appropriate that we wrestle as long as it takes – which will be forever, obviously – with the ongoing consequences of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.
But being here does tempt me to wish my countrymen and women had a slightly less myopic view of our own trials and tribulations. I read this morning that Belgrade is trying to scrape together the finances to build a memorial to Judenlager Semlin, the largest German-run concentration camp in Southeast Europe where in May 1942 the Nazi’s proudly announced one of their first major European campaign successes: Serbia was “Judenfrei”. The men had been executed earlier, but the last 7000 Jewish women and children were killed in the camp in the first few months of 1942.
By May Serbia was Judenfrei.
And this is not a The Holocaust trumps all kind of statement – I just mention it in the context of the previous 2000 years of European history.
The Germans might have achieved a unique scale with their technological and organisational excellence, but the great rivers of cruelty and tears are old, deep and cold here, and they flow through every valley of this geography – and not only to and from the mighty lake that was The Holocaust.
At an earlier time I discussed our (equally irritating) ‘leadership exceptionalism’ (here for original post) where I said:
… this country has developed a habit, possibly a mythology, of what I term “leadership exceptionalism”. In short this refers to the belief, erroneous or otherwise, that South Africa has achieved an unlikely stability primarily through the exceptional quality of leaders throughout the society – including on both sides of the Apartheid fence and in the churches, trade unions and business.
By the way “deep blue” in the headline was not meant to be a riff on IBM’s chess playing supercomputer.
Rereading Part 1 I can see how someone might accuse me of being a little too certain about the shape of the future. I am not running “deep blue” regressions and algorithms, modelling South Africa and the world, generating predictions x of y % accuracy with z % error margins … South … Africa … will … be … peachy … in …2021 … bidledeebidledee beep.
I have no real idea of what is going to happen in the future – and only the bare bones of an idea of the internal processes I go through to develop the views I advance here.
From time to time I investigate how we predict outcomes, and how we asses risks. I am interested in how our evolved systems (honed against sabre-toothed tigers and uncertain rainfall patterns, for example) apply in the kind of technology driven mega-societies we now inhabit – or, specifically, don’t apply i.e. that our ‘instinctive systems’ need to be suppressed or countermanded if we hope to get it right in certain situations. But that is not what I am doing in these quick pre-Mangaung notes.
The “deep blue” of the headline was actually a reference to being bleak, sad, cold and lonely.
Which leads me to:
Who are the demagogic populist, proto-fascists* now?
The ANC will (initially) combat the threat of losing support by becoming more ‘demagogic populist’, rural conservative and based in the lumpen classes – basically, by drifting to the right
In December 2010 I wrote an article in GQ Magazine under the headline: “Can you hear the drums?” with a concluding paragraph that read:
In the year 2010, anger and resentment … bubbled over … The winners still have their stuff, but they are clutching it more tightly to their chests, and for the first time in 16 years they are straining for the hint, a sound or a smell, of what might be coming for them out of the night.
Read the whole story here.
Two ‘crises’ (or warnings) that occured this year are the equivalent of the scary sound of drums in the night for the incumbent ANC elite. The first warning is Marikana and the second, linked, warning is the traction Julius Malema’s manipulative populism was able to achieve amongst some sections of the disenfranchised youth.
I made some of these links in my coverage of Marikana here.
I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional
Leaders Courts Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here and here.)
Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state), the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’ (as I argued in Part 1).
This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these.
Initially the ANC might get even higher turnout at its rallies (especially with free food and t-shirts and sexy young people dancing between the rabble-rousing and the singing of Umshini wami). But eventually the class and demographic changes of the society impact upon the party – reformat it, split it, renew it … change the political ecology in which it moves and feeds.
You will see from my next post that I do not only think the ANC is a useless bubble of foul smelling gas buffeted on the sea of history. The ANC, in my analysis, has become a most significant and material influence for and against my upbeat scenario … a sort of deranged midwife at the happy birth.
* The term “demagogic populists, proto-fascist” is from various SACP documents and was code for Julius Malema (and, I suspect, in slightly early versions, a code for Tokyo Sexwale). This is what the SACP had to say about it:
The “new tendency”
It was the SACP at the 2009 Special National Congress that first identified clearly the ideological and underlying class character of what we called the “new tendency”. We described it as a populist, bourgeois nationalist ideological tendency, with deeply worrying demagogic, proto-fascist features. It was the SACP that pointed out the connections between the public face and pseudo-militant rhetoric of this tendency and its behind-the-scenes class backing. It was a tendency funded and resourced by narrow BEE elements still involved in a rabid primitive accumulation process, based on a parasitic access to state power. It was a bourgeois nationalist tendency that sought to mobilize a populist mass base, particularly amongst a disaffected youth, to act as the shock troops to advance personal accumulation agendas.
The SACP must feel free to pat itself on the back, but the reality is that party took on the straw man of Kebble/Malema/Sexwale and backed – to the hilt – the real demagogic, proto-fascist tendency – the one with real power … and the one with real patronage to dispense. (That last bit explaining why this SACP has backed the Nkandla Crew)
There is something that seems to have been missed in the public discourse about Marikina.
Without wanting to be over dramatic, I think Marikana is a clear warning that we are under immediate and serious threat; in ways that I will discuss below.
What happened – both before and after the police shooting – has been exhaustively examined and there have been excellent discussions about the untransformed migrant labour system, the collective bargaining system, the gradual implosion of Num, the awfulness of the conditions in Nkaneng, the micro-lenders explosion, the sadness and despair of families of victims in the labour sending areas … one might have thought that every conceivable angle has been exhaustively pursued.
But we can be swamped by the details and the anger and grief.
I think something has been missed, perhaps in emphasis, rather than facts – and because, rather than despite, the sheer attention to detail in the media coverage.
So take one step back and look carefully.
Ask: what is most essential about what happened here?
- The police shot and killed 35 striking mine workers.
- At least 10 other people had been killed beforehand – including 2 police officers – mostly by the strikers.
Now take another step back and let a slightly, only very slightly, broader picture come into focus:
- It happened now, not in the apartheid era – and there is nothing with which to compare it in our 18 years of democracy.
- The closest proximate cause was the implosion of the National Union of Mineworkers.
One more step:
- The failure of Num created space for the rise of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
… and one last step:
- Num is Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, is the mainstay of ANC support in Cosatu and is one of 3 key pillars of support within the ruling alliance backing the re-election of Zuma (with the SACP and Kzn);
- Amcu, Julius Malema and the wildcat strikers and their committees found each other from the beginning of the cascade (of which Marikana was a part) after the Implats strike in January.
As I focussed backwards and forwards through those perspectives I suddenly, with a surge of adrenalin, realised the danger we are in.
This is the essence of that realisation:
We have had 18 years of a comfortable ANC majority. Whatever the problems with the ANC’s performance I have mostly believed the party would continue to enjoy the overwhelming support of the majority – of so-called African black South Africans – well into the future, beyond any point worth worrying about.
Despite growing evidence to the contrary I have come to rely on the inherent stability that comes from the ANC sitting like a collapsed star at the centre of our political solar system; with that dense cinder, in turn, held together by the ANC’s own leadership sitting at the core of the party, heavy and stultifying, but essentially stable.
Marikana (in the violence, in the institutional collapse, in the momentum given political evangelists of the Malema stripe) is about Jacob Zuma’s ANC spinning off pieces of itself, of its members and supporters, of its voters and potential voters.
The most obvious metaphors are from physics.
The centripetal force decreases as the set of interest at the centre narrow (please check my science here). The Nkandla patronage networks are in an ever tighter and more mutually dependent relationship with the SACP and a faction of Cosatu (a faction most closely identified with the Num). The narrower the centre, the less able it is to hold in place the system orbiting around itself. Ultimately, the bits are flung out of the orbit.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
And the narrowing centre’s response? Well, that would be the massacre of the 34 mineworkers.
The blood-dimmed tide
The other metaphor is the vacuum, and as we know nature abhors a vacuum so it sends the first things that come to hand to fill it.
There seems to be a universe of hopeful voices out there that the first thing that will ‘come to hand’ is either a more democratic version of the ANC or a DA somehow more rooted in the nation (especially that three-quarters of the nation that is poor and black).
But what were the first things to rush into the vacuum, the vacuum left by the rapidly narrowing set of interests at the centre and by its precipitous loss of moral and political authority?
The communists had it right in 2009 already.
If the communists are good for nothing else, they are excellent at spotting fascists (I always think it is because, like alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery, communists feel the call of the beast within … but that is an argument I will need to explore elsewhere).
Already in late 2009 the SACP warned about the emerging tendency within the ANC (the tendency that coalesced around Malema, but has its roots deeper in elements of the emerging elite and their allies in the private sector):
Because of its rhetorical militancy the media often portrays it as “radical” and “left-wing” – but it is fundamentally right-wing, even proto-fascist. While it is easy to dismiss the buffoonery of some of the leading lieutenants, we should not underestimate the resources made available to them, and the huge challenge we all have when it comes to millions of increasingly alienated, often unemployed youth who are potentially available for all kinds of demagogic mobilization.
See what I mean? The communists are almost prescient as far as fascism is concerned. I covered those issues in more detail here.
Amcu and Julius Malema are part of the same phenomenon in the sense that they are both drawn into existence by the collapse of the centre and in addition share a number of features in ideology and style.
The extreme levels of violence, especially the violence of the state (deployed to defend the weakening centre) is also an essential and predictable element of what must flood in to fill the emptiness at the centre.
This is not some threatening future. Marikana threw aside a veil and revealed that this is where we are already, this is what is filling the vacated centre.
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(Note: I know it is such a cliché to use The Second Coming, but it is almost irresistible given the points I want to make here. Read the whole poem at the link I provide earlier … it is not really meant to be dipped into in the way that I have here. Consider its post-First World War context. )
*It was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who famously said the Party “found power lying in the streets and simply picked it up” – and he would have known a thing or two about that. For the most sturdy readers you can find a discussion of that here.
In case anyone was wondering if I had disappeared into the ether: I have been seriously busy and have had no time to post on the blog.
If you were paying extra attention, you may have noticed that a post reviewing the nationalisation of mines debate appeared and disappeared a few weeks ago.
My mistake – it was bespoke for a month, and I jumped the gun. I am now able to publish it and you will find it below.
Meanwhile I am into my second reading of An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New” ANC by Fiona Forde. It is exceptionally good and I strongly recommend you go out and buy yourself a copy. I have begun a review which I will publish here during the course of the week.
But meanwhile, here is the month-old nationalisation update/review. My views haven’t changed much since I wrote it … and it is good to get it on the record … even if it is a little turgid and written in an overly formal tone.
The nationalisation of mines debate in South Africa is, as predicted, reaching new heights of sound and fury. Yesterday it appeared that Cosatu was officially supporting the Youth League call. This is a situation fraught with danger although I do not change my assessment that the ANC is unlikely to decide on mine nationalisation along anything like the lines proposed by its youth wing.
- Yesterday Cosatu economist Christopher Malikane argued that the ANC has accepted as fact that the mines would be nationalised and that it was only a question of “how” not “if”.
- This does not imply significant new risk although the markets are likely to interpret it as such.
- In reality Cosatu is significantly divided on the call and current shifts in Cosatu policy have more to do with (important) internal conflicts.
- Cosatu does not have the final or even main say over ANC economic policy and its current flirtation with the Youth League is actually about frustration with not achieving its policy aims with the ANC.
- The ANC and its left wing allies have been consistent and steadfast in their criticism of the call and I outline the history both of the Youth League call and of the critique of the call in this report.
- The nationalisation call has consistently been deployed in political battles for power within the ANC and in government which both gives the call unrealistic political energy and makes the threat difficult to interpret or assess.
- The ANC has set its Economic Transformation Committee the task of assessing the call and making proposals. I expect clarity to emerge in November this year but a final decision will only be made at the centenary national conference in December next year.
- Cost, international agreement, the Bill of Rights and the constitution make it inconceivable that the ANC attempt to nationalise the mines.
- However I think the party and government will use the threat as a stick to get a better deal out of the mining houses.
- Between now and the final decision the “sound and fury” will keep the issue alive and the threat present.
Cosatu shifts towards the ANC Youth League
Yesterday Congress of South African trade Unions economist Professor Christopher Malikane was reported to have said at a South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry forum that the group charged with discussing the nationalisation of mines in the ANC had moved beyond the issue of whether the mines should be nationalised and is now purely considering modalities to achieve this aim. “Investors are looking for certainty around the issue of nationalisation, well this is the certainty they need,” he said.
The ANC Youth League managed to place formally on the agenda of the ruling African National Congress (at the party’s National General Council in September 2010) the proposal that government consider nationalising a majority share of the mining industry – for report back and a decision at the party’s Mangaung elective centenary conference in December 2012.
The general noise gets louder
With the ANC and government leadership mired in controversy relating to poor service delivery, poor government performance and accusation of corruption – and the Zuma presidency as weak as it has ever been – the ANC Youth League and its supporters in government appear to have seized the initiative and are making all the running at a public level. Investors and other observers would be forgiven for thinking that the slogan “Economic Freedom in our lifetime!” and the calls to nationalise the mines, banks and the land (that last explicitly without compensation) were not government policy. I am of the view that owners of mining equity and other property in South Africa are starting to feel the heat.
My view has been that the ANC is highly unlikely to decide to nationalise the mines – although uncertainty in this regard will persist right up until December 2012 (although some clarity is expected to emerge after the ANC committee examining this issue reports back some time in November this year).
I think that the party and government will attempt to use the populist surge to discipline the mining companies to fulfil their social and Black Economic Empowerment obligations under the Mining Charter (which arises out of the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act).
Additionally government and the party are likely to use the opportunity to change the tax and royalty regime to extract more revenue from the sector – particularly with the imposition of a tax on windfall profits.
Finally I think it likely that new obligations will be placed on the mining companies – especially with regard to some form of obligatory contribution to the building and maintenance of transport and power infrastructure near where the mining operations are located.
Brief History of the nationalisation call
The ANC Youth League on nationalisation of mines
Soon after the current leadership of the ANC came to power at the landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007 the ANC Youth League elected Julius Malema as its president (in April 2008).
By the end of that year Julius Malema and the Youth League began proposing that the mining industry be nationalised. This was the essential elements of that proposal:
* an immediate suspension of the issuing of mineral rights and permits;
* the establishment of a state owned mining company;
* the nationalisation – with or without compensation – of fifty percent of all mining operations;
* that licenses only be issued in future on the basis of a 60 percent equity stake being held by the state owned company.
The Youth League drew authority from the historic Freedom Charter document. The document, drawn up in a national consultative process led by the African National Congress in 1955 and adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown says of the economy:
“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.
Criticism from the Left of the ANC Youth League call
The major critique of the ANC Youth League call was formulated by Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (and major ANC intellectual and ideologue).
It is my guess that Jeremy Cronin was deployed by the incumbent leadership of the ANC in the belief that a criticism of the nationalisation call articulated by leading communists would defuse the Youth Leagues claim of militancy and radicalism – and I therefore cover these arguments in detail here.
Cronin argued that the Freedom Charter passage supports the idea that “the people” get the full benefit of the economic resources “not that there be a narrow bureaucratic take-over by the state apparatus and the ruling party’s deployees” (all Cronin quotes in italics in this section from SACP’s Umsebenzi Online Volume 8, No. 20, 18 November 2009).
The state owning important aspects of the economy says nothing, for Cronin, about whose interests are being served:
“Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s fascist Italy, and Verwoerd’s apartheid South Africa all had extensive state ownership of key sectors of the economy.”
So for Cronin the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act had already gone some way to fulfilling the Freedom Charter’s objectives by explicitly stating:
“… that South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources belong to the nation and that the State is the custodian thereof …. In other words, it is the “nation” (with the state as custodian) and not the mining companies that have legal ownership of the mineral resources beneath our soil”.
Cronin argues that the Youth Leagues proposal of nationalising
“mining houses in the current global and national recession might have the unintended consequence of simply bailing out indebted private capital, especially BEE mining interests”.
And further that:
“Many of our gold mines in particular are increasingly depleted and unviable. Some reach costly depths of four kilometres below the surface. Recently the global gold price has bounced back, but it is telling that, unlike in the past, our gold output actually dropped by some 9% in the same period. Our gold mines are simply no longer able to respond dynamically to gold price rises.”
Cronin (while making it clear he thinks “the people owe the mining houses absolutely nothing”) points out that South Africa’s Bill of Rights sanctions expropriation but requires compensation at a price agreed by both parties or determined by the courts.
The bottom-line for Cronin is that nationalisation would do nothing to further the “national democratic struggle”. Rather it;
“would land the state with the burden of managing down many mining sectors in decline … burden the state with the responsibility for dealing with the massive (and historically ignored) cost of “externalities” – the grievous destruction that a century of robber-baron mining has inflicted on our environment. In the current conjuncture, nationalising the mining sector at this point would also probably unintentionally bail-out private capital, in a sector that is facing many challenges of sustainability. The problems of liquidity and indebtedness for BEE mining share-holders are particularly acute.”
Opposition to and support of Youth League call
President Jacob Zuma, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (who is also SACP Chairman), and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu have all explicitly rejected the ANC Youth League’s call – with Shabangu having famously said that the mines would only be nationalised “over my dead body”.
However despite this being the overwhelming position of the ANC and government, the Youth League scored a significant victory by having its proposal placed formally on the ANC’s policy agenda – achieved at the National General Council meeting in September last year.
At that conference Tokyo Sexwale (Mvelapanda Resources and Human Settlements minister) and Bridget Radebe (Mmakau Mining, wife of minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe and sister of Patrice Motsepe) both came out in support of the ANC Youth League’s call – giving some weight to the now widespread allegation that the Youth League is operating with a hidden and funded agenda to have failing Black Economic Empowerment deals bailed out by government.
Arguing against the call were leading ANC intellectuals Joel Netshitenzhe, Jeremy Cronin and Trevor Manuel. However the ANC incumbent leadership failed to block the Youth League proposal and it is now formal policy of the ANC to investigate the matter and report back for a decision to be made at the centenary National Conference of the ANC which will be held at Mangaung (Bloem) in December 2012.
The ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee
The committee tasked with formulating the ANC’s position on the nationalisation of mines is the Economic Transformation Committee – which has the general brief of investigating the role of the state in economic development and is the natural forum in the ANC to develop a position on nationalisation.
There is not much in the public domain about the proceedings of the committee, but it is my information that Gwede Mantashe is overseeing the work of the committee which is formally headed by Enoch Godongwana (deputy minister of Economic Development and ANC NEC member).
The contributors thus far include those from the ANC Youth League, Joel Netshitenzhe, MZ Ngungunyane, Cosatu, Floyd Shivambu, Paul Jordaan and the National Union of Mineworkers. The full text of the initial contributions can be found in the last five issues of ANC’s internal discussion publication “Umrabulo” (find those on the ANC website at http://www.anc.org.za/list.php?t=Umrabulo).
It is my understanding that those opposed to the nationalisation call – for the reasons that have already been summarised in this report – are attempting to craft a compromise that will allow everyone to save face while allowing government to wrestle a better deal out of the mining companies – as stated in the “My view” section at the start of this report.
It is my understanding that the committee will report back in November this year and I expect the markets to get an indication of how the debate will pan out then. However, it should be borne in mind that the formal conclusion of this debate will only be reached at Mangaung in December 2012 and the noise is likely to continue right up until the last minute.
Cosatu’s shifting sands
The major change of external inputs into my assessment has been a struggle within the Congress of South African Trade Unions that has resulted in a shift away from the federation’s original position which was closely aligned with the view of the SACP and the incumbent leadership of the ANC – as articulated by Jeremy Cronin above.
The last unambiguous statement from Cosatu on this general issue came in the form of a joint communiqué with the SACP on the 24th of June 2011- I quote it here in full:
“… periods of capitalist crisis are also typically characterized by various forms of right-wing demagogic populist mobilization acting on behalf of various capitalist strata in crisis, but often masked behind a pseudo-left rhetoric. We believe that the same phenomenon is apparent in SA, finding a potential mass base amongst tens of thousands of unemployed and alienated youth in particular. However, behind this populism are often well-resourced business-people and politicians seeking to plunder public resources. We resolved as the SACP and COSATU to close ranks and to expose the true agenda of these tendencies and their connections to corruption and predatory behaviour in the state.”
However, at the Cosatu National Executive Committee meeting a week later a split appeared in Cosatu that has impacted on this debate.
The conflict is complicated but in a nutshell, it is between a faction led by powerful Cosatu Secretary General Zwelenzima Vavi and Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) of South Africa and a faction headed by leaders grouped around the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) under Frans Baleni. Broadly the NUM/Baleni faction is supportive of the SACP and the Zuma leadership of the ANC while the Vavi/Jim/Numsa axis has become frustrated with broken promises (concerning both corruption and economic policy) of the Zuma/ANC leadership and would generally seek a more radical socialist or workerist political solution than is being offered by the ANC.
The Vavi/Jim/Numsa faction has over the last month begun courting the ANC Youth League, and attempting to harness the energy coming from this sector for its own ends. This is highly opportunistic as Vavi and Numsa have consistently characterized the Youth League leadership as “right-wing demagogic populist” and the League’s nationalisation call as fronting a corrupt BEE agenda looking to take a double bite out of resources available for transformation.
Rank opportunism or not, the crack in the Cosatu position is adding a new element to nationalisation debate. It is my understanding that the National Union of Mineworkers remains opposed to the ANC Youth League call, but the new element will undoubtedly add some confusion.
The point to remember about Cosatu – a point reiterated by the ANC and government leadership time and again – is that the federation represents a sectional interest. There are obvious reasons why some elements in Cosatu would want the mines nationalised – who wouldn’t want a guaranteed job for life as a Greek style (up until recently) government employee?
It is to NUM’s credit that its president Senzani Zokwana said in November last year that the Youth League was being reckless with the industry and that the League’s call was inspired by rich Black Economic Empowerment recipients looking to get failing deals bailed out by the state and Frans Baleni a month ago reiterated: “It is not only the private sector that has invested (in mines), but the workers with their pension and provident funds have also invested. We should have maturity and the debate should not have political undertones.”
It’s the law!
A key motivator of my view has been that South Africa is bound both formally and informally to agreements – including in the Constitution – that make it impossible to nationalise the mines without full compensation. Nationalising 50 percent of the mines would cost in the region of $130bn. There is no conceivable advantage – and an almost endless downside – for the government to nationalise the mines. Therefore it is not going to happen – although the end result might look like a compromise and might entail the establishment of a state owned mining company, although one with a much smaller asset base and agenda than conceived in the Youth League’s call.
Nothing material has changed that would allow me to change the view – although my confident smile has assumed a slightly brittle quality. Cosatu was never going to be the determining factor in this debate but the weakness of the ANC leadership – in particular the weakness of Jacob Zuma’s presidency – means that I am no longer certain that the centre of the Ruling Alliance can hold.
From the start the nationalisation of mines call has, in part, been a stalking horse for leadership challenges within the ANC and government. I have argued elsewhere that the call has been central to Tokyo Sexwale’s political ambitions and that he has covertly supported the Youth League in this regard for some time.
Now we have an element of Cosatu attempting to forge some form of alliance with the Youth League around the call clearly as part of a strategy to shift the leadership balance within the ANC.
The Youth League itself is using the call for its popular mobilization potential to help push its own candidates (particularly Fikile Mbalula – currently minister of sport) for higher office.
In this environment it would be foolhardy to be overconfident about the call. However it is my opinion that predicting the success of the Youth League call would be the same as predicting the imminent failure of the South African democratic project and state – a view I believe is too extreme and alarmist.
In many ways what is happening now is very much as predicted: the situation will be full of sound and fury right up until a decision is made at the end of 2012.
Here’s something important to read and understand.
From a South African Communist Party Central Committee statement released today – I just caught it on Politicsweb here.
You can disagree with the communists about a range of points of strategy and of principle, but they accurately and urgently identify populism as exemplified by the ANC Youth League ruling faction (and be clear, this is what they are talking about) as the greatest threat to the ruling alliance and, more importantly, to the South African democracy.
This is their call to arms:
We are dealing with an anti-worker, anti-left, anti-communist, pseudo-militant demagogy that betrays all of our long-held ANC-alliance traditions of internal organizational democracy, mutual respect for comrades, non-racialism, and service to our people. It has created substantial space for an anti-majoritarian, conservative reactive groundswell that seeks to tarnish the whole movement, portraying us all as anti-constitutionalist and as narrow nationalist chauvinists.
It was only a matter of time before a rescue attempt of the sliding democratic project was launched from within the alliance. It was always going to come either from Cosatu or the SACP – and despite its lack of a mass base, the SACP is more venerable and respected within the ANC
The communist leadership has dissipate into government and its voice has been softer and more defensive as a result. It remains to be seen if the party is still able to crack the whip loud enough to drive our domestic version of Zanu-PF back into its cage.
Remember the ANC’s online leather jacket sale; those amazing garments seemingly designed for a camp 1970’s version of a black Star Wars?
And the Stabproof Protektorvest (TM) that some enterprising person tried to flog to 2010 World Cup visitors to South Africa who needed to withstand the blows they could expect to be rained upon them by the hordes of ‘machete wielding tribesmen’ the UK gutter press was warning about?
Well, what do you make of how Julius Malema and his delegation arrived at court yesterday to defend against the charge that singing Dubula iBhunu constitutes hate speech?
… and in case you can’t see the accessories properly, here is another one:
So what do the Nazi party, the AWB and the ANC Youth League actually have in common?
Certainly a sense of camp elegance and style; dark flowing fabric and the gleam of steel and silver, cut through with the clean heroic red.
And the instinctive understanding of the marketing value of a bit of curling-lip arrogance, creaking leather and a hint of sex and violence on the side.
And perhaps a few other tendencies and traits that will reveal themselves over time.
(The sources of those pics were as follows: the accessory close up was: http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article1016881.ece/Jujus-guards-cause-chaos and the one of Malema surrounded by his elegant guards came, I think, from http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/who-is-malema-at-war-with-1.1056002.Please visit those sites.)