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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.

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

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

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

Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

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

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

Maggie1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Maggie3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I often send out commentary before I am satisfied with it.

That usually means typos and misspellings that I have failed to find in a rushed edit, but sometimes it means the analysis is … less in-depth (trite? … shallow? … Ed) than I would have liked.

It’s the price of procrastination when chasing deadlines – and one of those deadlines was two weeks ago when I rushed to get a weekly update out just as the news from the  Brics summit was coming in. This is what I wrote (tagged on to a longer report about a number of different matters):

Brics bank (16/07/2014)

Leaders of China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa met at the 6th Brics summit in Fortaleza, Brazil yesterday.  On the agenda is the establishment of a development bank and monetary reserve – eventually together consisting of as much as $200bn in capital reserves and guarantees.

So what?

There are a number of important issues associated with this initiative, but one is that this is a deliberate attempt to institutionalise a shift away from the Western (specifically US) dominated financial system (particularly the IMF, the World Bank and the use the USD$ as the global reserve currency).  Such moves are probably historically inevitable and as China, India and Russia – and to a lesser extent Brazil – stutteringly grow in influence (economically, militarily and otherwise) they were always going to gently tug at the leash of US global dominance.

For South Africa – a small regional player, with anaemic economic growth and very moderate political/military influence – to have attached itself to the coattails of a kind of teenage rebellion by the powerful young global bucks is faintly ridiculous. South Africa winds up being drawn into a subservient relationship with China and Russia (over which it has almost no influence) and thereby flirts with the enmity of the real global adult whose judgements, when push-comes-to-shove, can be quite severe. That’s a lose-lose, as far as I can see.

Nothing wrong with the comment, although I wish I had made it clearer that I welcome Brics and I welcome the gradual receding of US power as much as I hope its retreat is orderly.

But I especially wish my good friend and old comrade-in-arms Andre Zaaiman had launched his Mindsight – Intelligent Enterprise Systems website before I wrote that report.

It would have been a great benefit to my analysis if I had read the first article Andre published on the website: “National Security: China-US-Africa“.

It’s not specifically about the Brics Bank (but it does mention it in context) but it is an excellent high level analysis of the growing contest between the US and China … and it argues that this is a matter of national security and national interest for South Africa.

Read the article … meanwhile, here are a few extracts:

ships

 

“The emerging geo-political great game between the USA and China is of great importance to Africa and South Africa. How this great power relationship unfolds will have a commanding influence on the 21st century.

“The future cannot be known; but probability and prediction can be improved as well as surprise avoided, if we are assisted by facts – by a proper understanding of what is going on – as well as by quality information, good theory and off course, secrets.”

“In statecraft, the purpose of intelligence is to provide a competent decision-maker with an informational advantage in the context of national security and the pursuit of national goals.”

“The launch of the New Development Bank (NDB) and of the Contingency Reserve Fund (CRF) by the BRICS-countries in July 2014 is a powerful signal that developing countries are no longer willing to play second fiddle on the global stage.”

“The desired post-Bretton Woods era does not only contain different global financial institutions – not controlled by the USA – but some analysts believe, also rests on different values … the need to prioritize physical infrastructure over other priorities (such as education, healthcare, women’s rights, etc.) towards which the World Bank has been drawn in recent decades. From a holistic point of view, all such investments are crucial for equitable national prosperity and well-being, but nothing creates jobs and literally drives ‘state-building’ like infrastructure.”

There is much in the article that is worthwhile and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the unfolding contest between the USA and China especially from a South African perspective.

Andre’s vantage point is especially interesting. He “is a former senior official in the State Security Agency of the democratic South Africa” and has previously “worked in the underground and intelligence service of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid and subsequently, served in the Presidential Support Unit under former President Thabo Mbeki” – those quotes from here.

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

So what

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

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

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

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

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

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

To restate our oft restated view on this matter:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

The key points worth reiterating here are:

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

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

 

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

Industrial relations

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

The cycle meets a secular trend

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

NUMSA’s political ambitions coming to the fore

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

The risks to the real economy remain large

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

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

SA industrial relations: The cycle meets the secular trend

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

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

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

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

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

Cautionary notes

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

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

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

The real economy 

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

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

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

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

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

Numsa 1 Numsa 2 Numsa 3 Numsa 4

 

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

Platinum strike finally over

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

Zuma sick and tired

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTES (with explanatory links):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SONA debate, Malema response, expulsion and EFF walkout

The fractious debate that followed …

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

Land expropriation, South African style

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

This is a picture of Stan Greenberg:

StanGreenberg

This is a picture of Robert De Niro:

de niro

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

Hmm, okay, sorry …

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

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

pollsPoilin

 

Then the Sunday Times Ipsos poll published March 22:

IpsosSundayTImes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Numsa confirms it will launch socialist party

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

UDM says beware of vote rigging

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

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

So what?

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

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

Mining policy pushback – in the Business Day anyway

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, the EFF  and DA manifesto launches:

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Democratic Alliance

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

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

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

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

So what

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings**

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.

The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles – on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.

Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?

When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.

But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technolog(who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.

My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.

Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.

I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book.  Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).

However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.

(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)

So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.

Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.

This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.

Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.

Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.

I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.

Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.

Herewith my news commentary as of yesterday morning. I thought I would republish it here because it includes my brief assessments of how to think about the Zimbabwe election, Vavi and the EFF. I also, politely, imply that the Seriti commission might be a cover-up and that Amcu’s underlying objectives in the gold sector are potentially quite scary.

Zimbabwe – grin and bear it

Robert Mugabe has won 61% of the votes (2.11 million votes) in the presidential poll, against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34% (1.17 million votes). Zanu-PF won 158 parliamentary seats against the MDC’s 49.

The head of the SADC facilitation process, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office yesterday released a statement that began:

H.E President Jacob Zuma extends his profound congratulations to HE President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013. President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.

The opposition MDC has called the result “fraudulent” and has threatened not to take up its 49 seats and to boycott government institutions and “pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies” (several online news sources, including BBC Africa).

The Mail & Guardian points out that monitors from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have stressed that the elections were peaceful and have endorsed them as ‘broadly free’. In contrast, the United States and European governments, which have sanctions in place against Mugabe over past election-rigging, “listed a litany of alleged flaws in the vote, from lack of availability of the voters’ roll to pro-Mugabe bias in the media and security services that skewed the election run-up” – M&G.

So what?
Even allowing for the myriad ways in which the MDC was (deliberately – and probably illegally) disadvantaged in this election it appears there has been a real shift away from the opposition. Perhaps this is because just by entering the unity government in 2008 the MDC both saved the economy from collapsing (and thereby saved Zanu-PF) and suffered some of the sins of incumbency. Perhaps it was how mediocre Morgan Tsvangirai has turned out and how endless have been his romantic and sexual travails. Whichever. I am not certain that the MDC will follow through and actually not take up it seats – this will only be revealed in the next few weeks.

To repeat comments I made on Friday:

  • It is deeply unfair. The election was brutally stolen in 2008 and every state resource that could be deployed against the MDC has been so deployed in the last 5 years. Slight economic upticks post 2008, the deepening indigenisation programme (or at least the promise of the goodies from the programme) combined with a host of tactical and strategic errors by the MDC appear to have allowed Zanu-PF to ‘pull off’ a victory at the edge of acceptability … and the edge of the law, but just within it. Even if that is not the opinion of the MDC or Western observers, it is going to be the formal assessment.
  • Thus, I am not suggesting that this result reflects the “will of the Zimbabwean people” … but it reflects it adequately to avoid the crisis that would result from an outright declaration that voters’ roll irregularities … and inadequate other preparations … and the historical legacy of repression and cheating … and misuse of security agencies and state media … constitute enough impact to declare the result not reflective of the will of the people.
  • Does this mean Zanu-PF’s deeply investor unfriendly, GDP growth unfriendly, economic policies will continue? Not entirely. I think Zanu-PF has, miraculously, won back a chance to control the post-Mugabe succession period. They very nearly lost it as a result of their catastrophic policies. I expect Zanu-PF to be more cautious and embracing of investors in future … including with regard to the indigenisation programme. 
  • I am less sure  of that final bullet than I was when I wrote it on Friday, but it appears to me that, at very least, Zanu-PF, will have learned a lesson from nearly losing its hold on the country and is likely to give more emphasis to ensuring that the benefits of its economic policies flow to ordinary Zimbabweans (and less to buying off Zanu-PF cronies, which has been the emphasis up until now.)

Arms probe in tatters

Last week Judge Francis Legodi resigned from the The Seriti Commission into the arms deal scandal and evidence leader, advocate Tayob Aboobaker, announced his resignation citing ‘nepotism, unprofessionalism and infighting’ (he may since have withdrawn his resignation). These ructions follow the earlier resignations of senior researcher Mokgale Norman Moabi and the law researcher, Kate Painting.
So what?
The elephant in this room is the Jacob Zuma himself is one of the individual ANC leaders whose reputation has been most tarnished by the scandal (corruption charges against him in this regard were only – controversially – withdrawn in 2009). At the same time, it is Jacob Zuma himself, in his capacity as President, that has instituted this commission, possibly in the hope that he can put the threat of the return of those charges permanently behind him. At this stage the commission is meant to begin hearings today, and among those who will be called are former President Thabo Mbeki, head of Cope and former Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, former Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin and former Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. I think it extremely unlikely that this commission will ever pronounce on why the bizarre decisions were taken to purchase the singularly inappropriate (for the country’s defence needs) set of expensive weapons systems (including 48 Saab Gripen fighters and trainers, 4 Daphne class submarines and 4 frigates). I also think it vanishingly unlikely that the commission will find out where the kickbacks went.

I will not be surprised if it emerges that the resignations from the commission are motivated by the belief that the process will achieve the exact opposite to its apparent purpose.

Zwelinzima Vavi

Several of the weeklies speculate as to whether Zwelinzima Vavi will survive the scandal in which he had unprotected sex in Cosatu’s headquarters with a junior employee whose employment in Cosatu he had irregularly organised – and who accused him of rape and later withdrew the charge in an internal Cosatu procedure.

So what
I covered this in some detail last week, but there is an implication to what is happening here that needs emphasising.

The ANC is facing an election next year and much of the pressure Vavi has been under up until now (from ANC/Zuma loyalists in Cosatu) has been directed at pulling him (Vavi) into line, to stop him constantly accusing government leaders of corruption, to stop him criticising macro-economic policy. The ANC needs to establish a united front so that it can take on the various challenges it faces in the national election next year. 

But there is a difference between placing pressure on Vavi and forcing him out of Cosatu. If Vavi is forced to resign because of his actions in relation to the junior employee it is not inconceivable that Cosatu’s biggest union Numsa might go with him.

It is as if the ANC has been pushing a board – that it thought was solid – to get it into a better position. But the board was rotten all along and it suddenly collapses as it is being pressed. An actual split in Cosatu that drove the most left-wing elements together and out of the ruling alliance would be negative for the ANC in a number of ways. It would further weaken the credibility of the trade union ally, it could raise the spectre of a viable ‘left’ party, it could force the ANC into having to contest on too many fronts in the 2014 election, it could increasingly lead to policy paralysis in government and it could cause serious labour unrest as Cosatu member unions reconstitute and split in a number of different industries. None of this is certain (or even likely) but it is a threat or a series of threats we need to bear in mind.

Economic Freedom Fighters – taxing times … but behind the theatre there are credible risks

Along the same lines as the above, the latest round in the colourful pageant of Julius Malema’s attempts to re-establish himself at the centre of South African politics came yesterday when he mounted a fierce attack on the South African Revenue Service (the full text published at politcsweb.co.za) after SARS made public the details of his tax record. (Here for the SARS statement and here for Malema’s response.)
So what?
SARS is defending itself from Julius Malema’s accusation that it is being used as a tool by what Malema calls the ZANC (the Zuma ANC). The truth or otherwise of this particular matter cannot be established, but I wanted to use the opportunity to raise what I see as the main risk associated with the Economic Freedom Fighters. The risks are not dissimilar to those associated with a potential ‘left’ split in Cosatu. It is increasingly likely that the ANC will be contesting the 2014 elections with significant threats both to its ‘left’ and its ‘right’.

The Democratic Alliance, perhaps in a formal alliance with other opposition parties and independent candidates is starting to seriously consider the possibility that it could win the Western Northern and Northern Cape and come achingly close in the, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. While I am unable to assess whether these are realistic objectives, I think it is important to consider how the ANC might behave if it faces this threat at exactly the point as its own members, allies and the Economic Freedom Fighters, place it (the ANC) under pressure.

I have no grounds to argue that the EFF and any ‘workers’ party’ that could conceivably emerge from a split in Cosatu could win enough votes to become a viable parliamentary opposition, but I do think that the operation of these forces place the ANC in an awkward, even untenable, ‘policy’ and ‘message’ position.

In adopting the investor friendly National Development Plan at Mangaung and in the presidency’s concerted attempts to stabilise the platinum mining sector, the Zuma administration has made it clear that it is extremely worried that investor sentiment towards South African policy and policy risk has turned negative. An ANC fighting a populist wildfire from the EFF (perhaps more heat than light … but anyway), an incipient ‘ left’ split from Cosatu and an ascendant DA is hemmed-in, constrained, unable to formulate viable national policies and increasingly tempted to engage in dirty tricks against its enemies.

 

Amcu and the gold negotiations – some tentative speculation

Following Amcu’s apparent walkout from the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation of the gold sector wage negotiation that had become stuck at the Chamber of Mines last week, I made the following comments (note that Amcu has since said it intends participating in the process, although as you will see from the below, I would be cautious of accepting that at face value):

I think that it is directly in Amcu’s rational best interest to:

  •  ensure that collective bargaining through the Chamber of Mines breaks down (i.e. that the central bargaining chamber is destroyed) and that companies are forced to seek agreements on a mine by mine basis; and
  • to provoke crises similar to those that took place at Impala in January last year and Lonmin in August on gold mines where it is not yet recognised as the majority union.

Firstly, why is this “rational”?
Because any of the anger, hot-headedness and youthful passions rooted in the history of Amcu leadership’s conflict with Num would have been burnt out of them last year.

Now it is probably more accurate to conceive of Amcu as rational competitors in a game where the objectives can be stacked in a very similar way to how one would stack objectives of a company with three or four major competitors in a set market.

Amcu can certainly get things wrong – and engage in activities that are counterproductive to the likelihood of it achieving its objectives – but this is less likely to be because Amcu is led by anarchist lunatics, and more likely to be because its leaders have made tactical and strategic errors.

Thus, while it is possible to argue that Amcu’s members and potential members are “tired of strikes” or “unable to bear the burden of further strikes” this should be conceived of as a constraint to Amcu pursuing its objective rather than an absolute barrier.
So what are Amcu’s objectives in the gold sector?
Firstly, to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Num, the loyalty of its (declining) membership, and its abuse of its prior dominance, is the most important obstacle to Amcu achieving its main objective which, unsurprisingly, is to be the only significant union in the resources sector. That is, Amcu’s primary objective is to occupy the eco-niche that Num has occupied up until now.

Trade unionism is a business … it’s about money and power. So yes, Amcu grows by more effectively representing (or portraying itself as more effectively representing) the collective interests of its members or potential members … and thereby actually getting greater numbers of signed up, due-paying members.

However, it cannot be effective in this task, even where it has already got more members than Num … because Num occupies an institutional and regulatory “space” that it is using to maintain its dominance.

Thus, in a central bargaining chamber system where the representivity of the participating members is outdated (as it clearly is in this case) the union that is actually dominant (or in the process of becoming dominant) must destroy the process and force employers to deal directly with it … and not with the old dinosaur that is taking up all the space by trading purely on the institutional lag effect.

So forcing employers to deal with Amcu, on a mine-by-mine basis, seems to be a no-brainer for the upstart union and explains perfectly Amcu’s actions up until now in the gold negotiation process that started 2 weeks ago.

The next step is that Amcu has to establish dominance at each mine … it has to “force” the employer to deal with Amcu rather than Num … even if the outdated books still show Num as the dominant union at each mine.

Thus Amcu will attempt to destroy Num’s negotiating position … it will work to ensure that workers do not feel that whatever Num and management settle for is an adequate settlement. Amcu only wins if that settlement fails; therefore it has an absolute imperative to cause those settlements between Num and management to fail (by proposing levels that are more difficult for management to meet and by mobilising workers against whatever settlement Num reaches).This is a competition that Amcu can lose. Num and management might strike a workable deal that the majority of mineworkers back … but it (Amcu) has got to fight it.

If this is correctly reasoned, there is a strong pressure on the central bargaining system in the gold sector and for possible mine level negotiations to be traumatic – in a very similar way to the trauma associated with strikes in the platinum sector last year and with an almost identical ‘architecture’.

Once (and if) Amcu has crushed Num and established its dominance across the industry its motivational hierarchy changes; it will then want to lock itself into the monopolistic position that Num now occupies. But that is a long way ahead, so long that it is not yet worthy of serious consideration. For now, it (Amcu) is trying to free up space so that it can go head-to-head with Num, which in turn is hiding behind bureaucracy. Thus Amcu is trying to increase competition because it believes in a straight fight it will win.

Finally, Amcu does not have a free hand in pursuing these objectives. Management and Num are going to fight back in all the ways (positive and negative) open to them. Also, workers are tired, indebted, the industry is shrinking and management is looking for excuses to downsize workforces – but within these constraints, I would argue that Amcu is forced by its own nature, to pursue the objectives here set out, as effectively as it can within those constraints.

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.

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:

… 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.

Forgive the scattering of a few lines from YeatsThe Second Coming, but they are so apposite here as to be inevitable:

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.

Lenin knew how easy it was to pick up power when it was lying around

I am sometimes tempted to think of myself as a company analyst, with South Africa as my company,  government as management and the currency and bonds as the share price

Company analysts make sell, hold or buy recommendations. Obviously a buy means the analyst believes the shares are cheap – in some difficult to determine absolute terms, but more likely in relation to appropriate peer or category comparisons.

If I was a company analyst, then what I might have been doing over the last while would have been writing a report changing my recommendation on South Africa from a hold to a sell.

Here is a bare-bones summary and ordering of that argument:

  • There are two major cycles driving negative sentiment which are coinciding now (which they do every five years):  the “strike season” and the lead up to the  ANC’s National Conference ;
  • Both these cycles are deeper and more traumatic that usual;
  • The reasons the strikes are worse than usual is excellently addressed by Gavin Hartford of Esop Shop –  here for a link to his paper at polity.org;
  • Mangaung is “deeper” and more traumatic than Polokwane because there is more at stake (some ANC members realise that another seven years of Zuma could hurt the ANC and the country; and Zuma and his backers cannot afford to lose office, because their dealing is not yet wrapped up and because their man remains legally vulnerable to the original corruption allegations against him);

But the main reason these cycles are deeper than previously is they are meeting a structural or secular trend, which consists of (and this is very stripped down):

  • Uncertain political stewardship from the top;
  • Institutional weaknesses in political (and labour) organisation characterised by systemic cronyism, corruption and nepotism (which leads to violent competition for control), managerial incoherence, narrowing support base and falsely inflated membership figures;
  • A significantly negative economic policy environment which might lower investment levels – e.g. fiscal uncertainty (because there is no way the ANC cannot keep increasing social grants and the public sector wage bill, which together are already more than half annual non-interest government spending) and a highly interventionist industrial policy (best exemplified in the SIMS document) which is one step away from ‘nationalisation by stealth” i.e. the effective deployment of private assets for public – or more narrowly governmental or even party – ends.
  • Incompetent infrastructure build, disruptive labour relations and failed educations systems are constant, apparently irresolvable and narrowing bottlenecks in the economy;
  • Institutional and administrative failures of government (in specific geographies and at specific levels of government) – with similar features to the second bullet referring to parties and labour unions;
  • Failures of the collective bargaining system – and other institutions designed to manage and mediate conflicting interests in society;
  • Growing social stresses around levels of inequality, unemployment, indebtedness and poverty – and unresolved racial overlays of the same.

Just listing that is faintly distressing … and you can imagine writing about it for weeks is not very uplifting.

But, I have, mid-stream, decided that I am not at all certain it is appropriate to take this relentlessly negative view.

Let’s go back to the political analyst/company analyst metaphor. Company analysts often suggest investors sell a share in a top quality, well  managed and highly profitable company if it is too expensive.

They might also recommend a buy on a company in all kinds of trouble – but one that is cheap and has upside that the herd of sellers hasn’t spotted.

I cannot remember an SA political shock or flood of negative sentiment that did not represent a buying opportunity in our financial markets. Remember the sell-off of  R54bn of SA resources companies after the leaking of a draft mining charter in 2002? It proposed forcing mining companies to immediately sell half their equity to black South Africans and spooked the market. The next few months was the chance of a life-time to buy excellent value company shares on the cheap.

Whether financial analysis adds real value to the investment process (or is just another bleed-off) is a matter of endless dispute. But here is why I would hesitate to call a sell on SA:

  • I cannot honestly say we have more political risk than Russia and Turkey, for example;
  • Where are the safe havens for investors, given the complex risks and problems in the global economy?
  • I cannot be sure that the negative news flow is not already in the price – it would be a very financial-market-analyst-type error to rush around shouting sell, sell, sell just after the last savvy investor had finished selling and begun buying;
  • My ‘negative secular trend’ is described as if it is inevitable – whereas there is much that can be decided and turned around by citizens, government and the ANC (despite my bleak outlook as to the likelihood of that happening, it must be in the mix as a possibility);
  • The country has a number of inherent advantages: its natural resources, its growing domestic market, its proximity to the last great frontier market (Africa), its sophisticated financial system and complex infrastructure, its constitutional framework, judicial independence and stable democracy – to name just a few.

Now obviously that does not counter the negative “secular” or structural trend I describe above. But there is something of a “baking a cake” strategy about how I have motivated for the big underlying negative trend. What I mean by that is I have marshaled all (or as many as I can come up with) of  the negative arguments in one place to bolster a particular conclusion: sell!

To make a cake one follows certain steps – mix ingredients, add energy and voilà: a nasty, stodgy, too sweet lump.

And that is a relatively simple object, with only a few requisite variables for its construction.

When we think about the future – especially when we write about it and propose to people how they should position themselves – the very first thing we should be is extremely tentative.

So I can’t, in good conscience, say sell South Africa.

I am unmistakably bleak about our politics and governance, but don’t take that as a signal to sell. I am quite likely being tossed on the waves of sentiment  – following financial market indicators, rather than leading them.

My very negativity could as easily be the indicator to start buying; that all the bad news is already in the price.

It is no easy matter to explain how a paragraph from Michael Ondaatje’s poem “The Cinnamon Peeler” speaks to me about the ANC’s economic policy process.

The poem is a  sensual delight – quite unlike the ANC’s policy discussion.

Anyway … here is the relevant paragraph:

          what good is it
 to be the lime burner's daughter
 left with no trace
 as if not spoken to in the act of love
 as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

(Catch the whole poem here  – you will be glad you did)

Who could have believed anything other than that the ANC’s recent policy conference was a momentous event, a sharp delineation between one stage and another?

The promise was in the ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ campaign, the calls for nationalisation of land and mines, the National Development Plan and the ANC’s policy discussion documents themselves.

The sense that some big change was imminent built towards the conference and then the news flow from the event spoke of deep geological shifts; shudders that shook the body politic.

And then … nothing.

Or rather the shifts were so subtle that it all felt like a new version of Kremlin watching (that popular art – masquerading as science – peddled by professional Western political analysts and historians circa 1955-1988 of predicting the future of global politics from who stood where on Soviet platforms).

Carol Paton, writer at large at Business Day, covered the recent ANC policy conference in a piece that should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the subtleties – and intrinsic weaknesses – of the process.

She argues that little has actually changed in ANC economic policy since the first conference after the unbanning in 1992 – and what has changed is slight and nuanced.

Paton’s more general point is that the discussion is inherently flawed:

Economic debate in the ANC occurs in a strange, abstract and ahistoric vacuum without reference to what really happens in an economy. For most of those involved in the discussion — who are delegates from branches but also often public representatives — the sole reference point for how change might be effected in society is through the exercise of political power.

Paton argues that almost none of the ANC members and leaders involved in policy discussion  “have had the experience of running or managing an operational business or even of operating in the economy in any way other than as a public representative or government official.”

The article is well worth a read – catch it here.

For me the important bit is the disjuncture between the promise/threat of radical change and the actual outcomes.

As we head towards Mangaung it is likely that noise arising from the ANC internal politics will once again begin to imply that we might be heading towards some radical discontinuity in economic policy.

Obviously our markets will be weaker than they otherwise would have been because of this sense of uncertainty.

I am fairly certain that come the morning after Mangaung we will comb our body for a trace of the change we thought must be a consequence of that event that presents itself as so profound … but we will find that we have been wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

Right.

I have got to find a way of continuing to populate this website. The reasons posts are becoming infrequent and irregular is that almost every day I produce bespoke and paid for research. I have less time every week to write specifically for nicborain.wordpress.com … except the occasional philosophical musings, which probably have a … very specific? … readership.

I am going to continue the philosophical and theoretical musings. I am finishing the last few chapters of Jared Diamond’s extraordinary “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” – Penguin 2005. As background reading to my professional work trying to make sense of politics and economics in the sub-continent (or anywhere in the world for that matter) it is seminal … I cannot recommend it highly enough.

So I will review it here. And I will keep raising issues associated with the epistemology of what I do – and other obscure matters of concern to me.

However, I will also start posting summaries of my recent views, interviews and perspectives … the first set of these below:

Iran, MTN and US secret power

The big issue of the week – in a lot of universes, but particularly the financial market’s – was  the $4.2-billion lawsuit launched against MTN last week by Turkcell in the United States District Court of Columbia in Washington DC. The Mail & Guardian had way the best coverage – see here  for a good backgrounder.

MTN investors took a serious bath on the news. The basic allegation of Turkcell is that MTN’s ‘Project Snooker’, driven by then CEO Phuthuma Nhleko (with some help) was a successful attempt to ‘buy’ (with cash, arms and South African diplomatic support) a preferential operating licence in Iran.

For me the link between this issue, the fact that the South African government had appeared to fold to US sanctions demands on oil imports from Iran (or at least to flip-flop confusingly) and the leaked documentation from close to Kgalema Motlanthe seeming to prove attempts to get government support for Bell Helicopter deliveries to Iran – potentially hurting his (Motlanthe’s) presidential ambitions – was a series of stories that raised the spectre of US secret power working it’s powerful and implacable will.

It looks like the Bell Helicopter with SA government support stuff was established:

 Through access to recordings and confidential documents – understood to have also been obtained and analysed by US intelligence agencies

according to the Sunday Times, but the documents that informed the Turkcell case appear to have been leaked by a disgruntled former MTN manager and South Africa’s flip-flop on oil could be based purely on the extreme nature of proposed US punishment for those who break sanctions against Iran.

So the sexy story of US spies fiddling in our politics doesn’t have a good evidential basis (although I have no doubt that US secret power is exercised every day throughout the world … perhaps not always with German-like efficiency and certainly with lots of unintended consequences.)

The MTN story … and South African oil imports … still has a way to run, so watch this space.

Malema summarily suspeded, Top Six unity press conference, Cyril for president and the interminable Mangaung contest.

I don’t know about you, but I am royally gatvol of press reports about ANC internecine struggles … during the course of the week this is what I had to say about various strands of this interminable story:

First I looked at City Press going out on a limb with contending ANC factional lists for Mangaung…  most interestingly putting Cyril Ramaphosa on both the pro-Zuma and the pro-Motlanthe lists … to become president of South Africa in 2014!

“You read right. Not ANC president, and not in 2012 … the Mangaung conference looks sewn up in favour of President Zuma, but even his supporters are starting to point to Ramaphosa as president, saying the billionaire businessman will do a better job of running the country” (from City Press).

I can’t assess the probability of a Ramaphosa presidency … but we can only hope.

I also had to comment to journalists over last weekend about a potential run by Mathews Phosa, essentially as a stalking horse and test marketing campaign for Kgalema Motlanthe. He (Phosa) has no prospects of slipping in himself, but both he and Motlanthe have been seen to be standing firm with their ANC Youth League allies over the last week and it is not inconceivable that they will have worked out a tag-team strategy between them.

Later in the week came the summary suspension of Julius Malema about which I said:

Julius Malema was yesterday suspended with immediate effect from the ANC and from participating in any way in the organisation’s activities or the activities of the Youth League. While this particular suspension is temporary, several different strands of disciplinary action against Malema make the implementation of a full suspension (lasting at least 3 years) inevitable.
In preparation for the Malema suspension the ‘Top Six’ of the ANC held a joint press conference to present a united front to condemn “bickering and negative lobbying” in the ruling party. Of particular concern was the recent incident in which Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was invited to address and ANCYL rally where he found himself “in compromising situations of being implicated in statements where ANC leadership is denigrated and insulted” (that all comes from official ANC press statements.)
Behind the show of unity are two broad camps, with President Jacob Zuma, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and National Chairperson Baleka Mbete broadly backing Zuma’s re-election at Mangaumg in December; and Treasurer General Mathews Phosa, Deputy Secretary General Thandi Modise and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe having consistently been much closer to Julius Malema and long assumed to back a leadership slate that would be headed by Kgalema Motlanthe and might include Tokyo Sexwale.
I do not expect the noise generated by the internecine struggle to die down until Mangaung itself. At this stage the Zuma camp is in an extremely strong position and this is the light in which the suspension of Malema needs to be seen.

I did a whole lot more radio interviews and bits and pieces about all of this … but I am becoming unspeakably bored with the whole issue. I think the ANC Top Six press conference was an attempt to get the focus onto the policy discussion documents and away from the draining and fracturing internecine squabbles. Can’t help but feel that might be a good idea.

Zimbabwe and Eddie Cross

The most interesting story of my week came about as a result of the consulting work I do for Religare Noah Capital Markets (Pty) Ltd, which is a member of the JSE and an authorised Financial Services Provider. Religare Noah brings Eddie Cross (Zimbabwe member of parliament for Bulawayo South, economist and Movement for Democratic Change Policy Coordinator General) to speak to, especially, mining and metals investors about once a year and I had a chance to listen in on his input.

Basically Eddie Cross  reckons that by October this year Zimbabwe will have undergone a fundamental transformation and that our northern neighbour will be well on the path to recovery – politically and economically – by then.

It is a huge story, but obviously the details are bespoke to Noah Religare and its clients. From my perspective I have known Eddie Cross to err on the side of being too positive and upbeat about Zimbabwe (as I have been … consistently calling the bottom for almost ten years … embarrassing, I know) but I was convinced that a combination of SADC unanimity and strong G8 backing … and the fact that Zanu-PF is out of options and fatally riven with factions, means that change is more likely than it has been in years. An endless stalemate is still a possiblity and more catastrophic scenarios, with the continued assasination of central players (like that of General Solomon Majuru) are options … but there are grounds for cautioius optimism.

I hope you have a restful long weekend … and a really good Friday …

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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