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In high anxiety at my failure to publish here for several weeks (what with 12 days visiting fund managers in the UK and Europe and new commitments to the Daily Maverick – see here and here for the first two of those) I have decided to again post a modified version of my usually bespoke ‘SA Political news commentary’ … to show willing; to demonstrate that I am not entirely unembarrassed that my last post, which was also a news commentary, was on March 18.
Perhaps I am edging towards closing down this blog … but I am not quite done yet, and for those who have stuck with me this long, I thank you.
So here, written to a deadline of 06h30 yesterday, slightly modified for my hanging-by-a-thread website:
SA Political News update 23/04/2013
Cosatu and the ruling alliance: corruption claims and counterclaims
According to the Mail & Guardian (April 19-25), the battle for control of Cosatu is becoming ever more vicious. The article states that behind the noise is an apparent attempt by the ANC to close down a powerful left faction in Cosatu that has been critical of both corruption and the alleged adoption of ‘pro-business’ policies by the ANC and government. The main issues over which the battle is playing out are:
- Allegations made (according to the M&G) by “an informal caucus … of senior leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, Popcru, Sadtu, Cepawu [they mean CEPPWAWU, I think - ed], the SACP and the ANC” that Zwelinzima Vavi, the popular Cosatu Secretary General, has engaged in corrupt activity and is disloyal to the ANC-led alliance, including by failing to adequately support Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung.
- A flood of accusations made through the Cosatu linked NGO Corruption Watch that many of the leaders of unions involved in attacking Vavi are themselves corrupt – Mail & Guardian in a story that works more by insinuation rather than actual content – see here for the story that was later denied by Corruption watch here).
- The proposal made by Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) for a special Cosatu congress to resolve this issue, opposed by the group named in the first bullet, but supported by Numsa, Samwu and several smaller unions.
- Support for and against the National Development Plan.
Business might be tempted to fold its arms and sit back and delight that the old ‘thorn in the side’ Cosatu is being riven by tension. However, it is worth recalling that some industrial relations consultants also delighted in the emergence of Amcu in the platinum sector as a counter to Num for similar reasons – and look how that played out. The serious political conflict in Cosatu could as easily result in higher levels of labour unrest, with higher levels of unpredictability, in a wide variety of industries than in a generally more compliant labour movement. Several multi-year wage agreements are coming up for review before the end of this year (including in the automobile, chemical, gold mining, coal mining, retail motor industry and tyre sectors – which historically have been trendsetters – Business Times). Add to this my uncertainty as to whether the tight three-year public sector wage agreement set last year will hold under strain caused by a combination of:
- the (welcome) reforming zeal of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu,
- government’s apparent attempt to roll back the power of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, and
- the generally difficult economic circumstances for union members,
- the successes of the wildcat strikes, particularly in the platinum sector last year, perhaps having established a new baseline for increase expectation throughout the economy
and it is not inconceivable that we could have another year of potentially devastating labour unrest.
If the government’s (and the ANC’s) intention was to have a showdown with organised labour over economic growth and stability that would be one thing. But I suspect that the evident intervention in Cosatu is based on the sectarian interests at the ruling faction of the alliance rather than in any real desire to pursue the national good. If that faction faction successfully expels Vavi they might precipitate a split in Cosatu and the long awaited formation of a new ‘left’ political formation … and just by the act of pushing, through what appears to be a dirty tricks campaign, for this outcome the ruling faction risks rapidly escalating labour unrest.
The DA and the ANC try on their best dresses (or maybe not) for Election 2014
The DA has launched a campaign attempting to burnish its anti-apartheid credentials, including publishing a pamphlet with a picture of Nelson Mandela embracing deceased party stalwart Helen Suzman under the caption: “We played our part in opposing apartheid”.
At the same time, the Mail & Guardian has published excerpts of what it calls ‘draft DA election material’ which explicitly compares the ANC to the National Party. The M&G’s quotes from the draft document include the arguments that under Zuma’s ANC there is a “rise of Zulu nationalism and racist rhetoric” and “as was the case with apartheid, the ANC is using the police to suppress criticism of its government”.
In the City Press and Sunday Independent, the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has separate opinion pieces that argue that the DA’s attempt to appropriate Nelson Mandela is “an abuse of the human and humble character of this icon”. He adds that the DA “remains a brazen advocate for white domination and privilege, and for elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.
The general election next year is likely to be messy and disruptive – sustaining the apparently endless flow of unsettling news coming out of South Africa. From this far out it appears possible that the ANC will be arguing that the electoral issues are essentially identical to what they were in 1994 (white domination and the legacy of apartheid) and that the DA will be arguing that that is just an excuse for delivery failure – it would be difficult to conjure up a more divisive and unhelpful framing of the issues 20 years after the first democratic election.
The unravelling of the Mandela legacy
The weeklies have a flood of stories that pick away at the fabric of the Mandela story. A reality TV show “Being Mandela” is reviewed in the Sunday Times under the heading “Opening up the canned Mandelas – comic kugels help deflate the myth”. The show “unveils the vacuous, pampered lives of two of Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini” – Sunday Times.
The Sunday Independent leads with a review of “struggle stalwart” Amina Cachalia’s new book “When Hope and History Rhyme” in which, among many other matters, she reveals aspects of her own alleged romantic relationship with Nelson Mandela post his marriage to Graça Machel.
All of this comes as a bitter fight among Mandela’s children (with, among others, Nelson Mandela nominees George Bizos and Tokyo Sexwale) for control of various trusts that Nelson Mandela set up on his children’s behalf comes to a head in the Johannesburg High Court – The Sunday Tribune.
There may be some inherent advantages to the exposing of myths and legends as … myths and legends – but there really appears to be no upside to this depressing deflation. None of these stories changes the reality of the 94 year old South African former president’s contribution to the South African democracy and state-craft in general, but the incessant exposure does add to the gathering gloom around the South African story.
Bits and pieces
- The Youth Employment Accord has finally been signed after three years of squabbling in the National Economic Development and Labour council (Nedlac). Not unexpectedly, it does not include a youth wage subsidy in the form of a tax-break for companies employing first time youth workers. Frankly, at first glance, the accord, as reported in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and City Press appears vague enough to leave some confusion as to how it might result in its proposed creation of 5 million jobs for youth by 2020. No real surprises there.
- The weeklies were full of scholarly – and not so scholarly – debate about the resignation of Judicial Services Council member Izak Smuts. The debate boils down to whether there is a tension between the quality of judicial appointments and the need to make the judiciary more demographically representative. This is an intrinsically South African debate that cuts across every sector of society and will likely be with us for many years to come – for better or for worse.
- ANC MP, Ben Turok, explains in the Sunday Times the terms of reference and limitation of the nine member “inquisitorial” panel appointed by parliament to investigate the “ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, potential or otherwise” of Communications Minister Dina Pule with regard to the various allegations that she has allowed her romantic partner to make significant capital out of her ministerial post. That parliament is investigating this matter can only be a good – albeit long overdue – thing.
 In order in which it appears in the quote, and supposedly constituting an anti-Vavi, pro-NDP, pro Zuma faction: the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress
 And this group, supposedly constituting the pro-Vavi, anti-NDP faction, anti Zuma faction: National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers Union (plus a host of smaller unions including the Food and Allied Workers union).
(Note for both footnotes 1 and 2 – it is undoubtedly more complicated than this, but we need to start somewhere to attempt to make sense of the chaos.)
 Wikipedia (accessed 22/04/2013) explains the use of this term in South African slang as follows: “Amongst South African Jews, the word “kugel” was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favour of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a summary of my analysis of the news from of the weekend press (August 19) – and radio and TV commentary – concerning the events in which 34 striking miners were killed by police last Thursday (August 16) at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in Northwest Province. (Written Sunday night, so some new facts might have come to light that I haven’t included – especially not Julius Malema’s “breathtaking political coup yesterday” – see Carol Paton’s lead story on front page of Business Day today … here is a link.)
The police shootings came after a week (starting August 12) in which workers launched a violent wildcat strike reportedly demanding a wage increase to R12500.00 p/m – from the current average of about R4500.00 p/m for Rock Drill Operators, who were the main constituents of the approximately 3000 workers who had gone on strike (the wage demand issue was dissected here – a story that points out that the real wage differential between what the workers were demanding and what they were getting was actually much narrower.)
During the course of the strike, prior to the police decision to remove the workers from a nearby hill they had occupied, approximately 10 people had been killed, including members of the police force, security guards, and ordinary workers – perhaps strikebreakers, although this is still unclear.
Julius Malema visited the area on Saturday and addressed the strikers – and is the only political leader who has been welcomed to do so. (Since I wrote this Zuma also managed to address the strikers).
President Jacob Zuma’s office has announced that a (judicial) inquiry into what happened will be established (see terms of reference and other details here.)
Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu together with Minister of Labour Mildred Olifant announced on Saturday they will be establishing a “task force” to address the problems at Marikana and deal with wider problems in the platinum sector.
It would be difficult to overstate the depth and variety of impacts of this event. Every news source reviewed here took the position that what had happened at Marikana was impossible to explain through any one category of cause and thus a multiplicity of causes was the approach taken across the board – although usually ending with the statement that the society and its top political leaders must, ultimately, carry the responsibility. Thus the commentary will be broken into the categories most commonly used in the Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Times and Sunday Independent:
Marikana as union rivalry
All the weeklies placed the rivalry between the mainstay Cosatu union, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) and the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) as the central explanation of what happened at Marikana. The consensus was that Num is slipping throughout the mining sector, having become too close to management (I doubt this is something with which either the union or management would agree) and increasingly representative of white-collar workers – and not RDOs and their assistants, and others who do much of the difficult physical work deep underground. “Amcu leaders and members launched ferocious attacks on Num members who were not prepared to go on strike”, said the Sunday Times lead editorial, summarising the most popular explanation for the central cause of what happened at Marikana. This ‘inter-union rivalry prism’ has much deeper implications when we consider the fact that Num is the key element of support for Jacob Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung in December this year, and Cosatu itself is three weeks away from its National Congress where its own leadership struggles – which are likely to be deeply influenced by what happened at Marikana – are being driven by those within the ANC – a matter explored under a headline below.
Marikana as Lonmin management failure
All the news sources reviewed here expresses the view that wages were unacceptably low in the platinum sector and that management was in some way culpable of feeding the conflict in the workforce by having attempted to make a separate deal with Rock Drill Operators at Marikana. These stories also tended to quote a 5 year study by the independent, “faith based”, Bench Mark Foundation – by chance (according to the foundation) released during the strike – that is sharply critical of the platinum mining companies for having failed to fulfill social obligations to workers and surrounding communities. (Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, City Press)
Marikana as policing failure
There was unanimity throughout all the news sources reviewed here that the police had handled the situation badly – and that deaths were, in part, a result of improperly armed (with automatic rifles) and poorly led police forces on the scene. Most accounts went to some effort to explain that the police had been fired on by strikers, that (at least one) member had been hacked to death by strikers during the course of the action (City Press, Sunday Independent) and that at least one shot came from the strikers during the confrontation – although the only weapons collected by police after the action were pangas, sticks and iron bars … no guns (Philip de Wet corrects this in the comments sections below, saying police found 6 guns including the one taken from the murdered policeman … I am looking for a link to the Phiyega statement and will put it here when I find it.)
Most of the sources agree that “They were armed to the teeth and advancing on the police. This is not to justify the killing, but we must be aware that today we could just as easily have been talking about the massacre of policemen” – Mondli Makhanya, Sunday Times. However, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has announced that it will investigate the killings and ”will seek to establish if the police action was proportional to the threat posed by the miners” – Pierre De Vos in Constitutionally Speaking.
Marikana as societal break-down – as a result of economic inequality
As mentioned, it is difficult to overstate the degree of anxiety and hand-wringing about the state of the South African democracy that came through in all the news sources reviewed here – and in television commentary throughout the weekend. The general point of concern was that the levels of inequality (raised in this case by low wages and poor working conditions of miners) will, here-on-out, be a constant destabilising element to this society. Commentary also focused on asserting that the mechanisms by which society negotiates clashes of interest – including the labour market collective bargaining regime – are broken (evidenced by this incident and the more-widespread-than-ever, and often violent, service delivery protests). Thus political stability was raised as a matter of concern in all 4 of the weeklies.
Marikana as driving exit of foreign investment
The business sections of the three Sunday newspapers all pointed out that the price of platinum rose sharply on the back of what had happened, but that Lonmin share prices fell precipitously. “Fear clashes will spread” was the lead Business Times headline and several stories suggested that “foreign investors” would exit because of endemic labour conflict and unrest. “The police killings … ‘have taken things to a new level, spreading the fear to currency and bond market investors’”, Business Times quoted Nomura’s Peter Montalt
Marikana through the prism of Mangaung.
Two issues lay the ground for Marikana to be perceived through the prism of the pervasive leadership contest in the ANC. The first is that Num itself is the key pillar of ANC support in the trade union movement (it’s the biggest union in Cosatu) and the force that swung Cosatu support for the ANC at the formation of the trade union federation in 1985. More specifically, Num, under the leadership of Frans Baleni, is backing Jacob Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung in December. The powerful – and very left-wing – National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) under Irvin Jim – and backed by Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi – is opposed to giving carte blanche backing to Zuma (mostly because of corruption concerns) and it is speculated that this faction might back Kgalema Motlanthe against Zuma at, and in the lead-up to, Mangaung. Several newspapers – but particularly the better informed Mail & Guardian, suggested this dynamic will lead to an attempt (by pro-Zuma forces) to unseat Zwelinzima Vavi at Cosatu’s national congress in three weeks’ time.
Secondly, Julius Malema immediately stepped into the breach at Marikana – as he did at the comparable (because it was also driven by the Amcu/Num contest) Impala strike earlier this year. Speaking to the workers on Saturday 18 – and note he was the ONLY political leader who has been allowed, by the strikers, to address them and he received a warm reception – Malema called for the resignation of Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police and key Zuma ally) and Jacob Zuma himself.
The faction of which Malema is a part and the factions that have a tactical alliance with him are likely to make as much as possible of the Marikana killings, and attempt to lay the blame directly at Zuma’s door (as almost all news sources reported Malema doing on Saturday.)
- There is a risk that it spreads – to other platinum operations, to the mining sector more generally and even to the society at large. The transmission mechanisms would be Num trying to win back ground it is losing from Amcu as well as via the already restive squatter camps and township neighborhoods. Municipal IQ, an organisation that monitors various aspects of municipalities, but particularly service delivery protests, points out that we had already passed, in July, the highest yearly totals of such protests since 1994. This outcome would not be my first case scenario. What drove the violence and the series of errors (of commission and omission) of the unions, management, the police and government that led to the killings are unique to that incident. If it does spread, the most likely first stop would be other platinum mines, and therefore the first impacts would be on supply of the metal.
- The feed through into conflict between unions – obviously between Num and Amcu, but also within Cosatu, between Num and Numsa - could presage a generalised increase in levels of industrial unrest.
- Government is likely to turn its full attention to the “social” performance of the mining companies – under the Mining Charter. Expect a thicket of new regulations – and a generalised attempt to focus the blame on the companies.
- Jacob Zuma’s comfortable lead in the Mangaung contest (and this is purely my opinion) is gradually narrowing as we get closer to the December ANC National Conference. The Marikana incident is likely to weaken his position further – and this in the context of a series of defeats in the second biggest ANC province, the Eastern Cape – which until a year ago was considered safe ground for Zuma.
But unlike kid’s telescopes – which, like kid’s microscopes, were blurry and disappointing and stupid – the kaleidoscope was a device of astonishing power and beauty.
The simple expedient of twisting one end caused visions of astonishing, luminous, grandeur to pour out the other.
I can still feel that tingling as if I was balanced on a precipice, reaching out to shape a whole universe; causing tectonic shifts in the intrinsic structure of reality … okay, maybe not that last bit … but you get the point.
Such power … and I had absolutely no idea how it worked.
My “device of power and beauty” was a semi-rigid cardboard tube with loose coloured beads or pebbles in the end and two mirrors running lengthways up the inside, duplicating images of the transparent junk that tumbled as it was twisted.
My first kaleidoscope wilted in my sweaty, meglomeniacal hands a few hours after I had torn it from its pretty wrapping – and I cut myself on a broken piece of mirror as I desperately pounded it to make it continue producing those wonderous images.
Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.
I am slightly more worried today that I was when I wrote the piece below (from July 2) just after the conference.
That is partly because I have thought further about some of the issues and partly because the consensus points within the ANC seems to be slippery – and therefore uncertainty is rising.
In short my worry is that the ANC is approaching more vigorous economic intervention with the enthusiasm and growing expectations of my six-year-old self after he first looked through his pretty new cardboard tube.
I think the likelihood of this all ending in tears in increasing exponentially – and the reasons are not very different from those that caused the ruin of my first kaleidoscope and my cut finger.
I will pursue this theme (the threats involved with increasingly desperate state interventions – especially those that worsen the problems they promise to fix) in future posts, but first my initial take on the conference; written just after having read the particularly awful English language Sunday newspapers of July 1:
Much ado – and confusion – about the ANC policy conference
The teams of journalists from the political desks at the Mail & Guardian, the City Press, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent could have been covering different conferences given the divergence of their understanding of what went down at Gallagher Estates in the Midrand from Tuesday to Friday last week.
This is my first attempt at a distillation of the main points – partly of the coverage, partly of what was supposedly being covered:
- Debates about policy and the struggle over who will be elected to the top positions in the ANC at the National Conference in December became blurred, to the detriment of both.
- The “Second Transition” concept became associated with Jacob Zuma (even though it was penned by his factional enemy, Tony Yengeni) and its rejection by most commissions at the conference was interpreted as a set-back to Zuma’s re-election campaign.
- The power struggle obscured the fact that there was general consensus that transformation is “stuck” and radical and urgent action to hurry the process along needs to be taken if the ANC is to keep the trust and support of its majority poor and black constituency.
- The report-back to plenary of the key breakaway commission on mining became the most blurred moment, when Enoch Godongwana presented a summary of the views on the state’s proposed involvement in the mining sector – with pro-Zuma provinces KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State tending to go with the SIMS compromise and the other six provinces tending to support the ANC Youth League in a strengthened nationalisation position.
- When consensus is finally reached, it is likely to include an even stronger role for the state-owned mining company – perhaps giving it the right to take significant stakes in all future mining licenses issued. Absolute taxation levels might be an area of compromise between the state and the mining sector in negotiations about this matter in the final lead-up to Mangaung where policy will be formally decided.
- There was broad consensus that the state could and should force the sale of farmland for redistribution purposes and that an ombudsman be appointed to determine ‘a fair price’ – to prevent the process being frozen by white farmers holding out for better terms. It is not clear whether this would require a constitutional amendment.
- There was general consensus that the Media Appeals Tribunal is no longer necessary, that the number of provinces needs to be reduced, that the proposed Traditional Courts Bill is reactionary and against the constitutionally guaranteed rights of women and children in rural areas, and that the youth wage subsidy (as a tax break to employers) had to be sweetened, or replaced, with a grant directly to young job seekers.
- The push for “organisational renewal” will require a number of changes: a probation period of 6 months for new members, a 10 year membership requirement before such members can be elected to the NEC, a reduction of the size of the NEC from 80 to 60 members and a downgrading of the status of the Leagues (women, veterans and youth) so they more directly serve the interests of the mother body.
So if this was a soccer tournament, what is the score?
The City Press led with “Tide Turns Against Zuma”, but frankly I think this is more about that newspaper’s preferences than anything else. The ideological disputes in the ANC are complicated but broadly follow an Africanist/nationalist group versus a SACP/Cosatu/anti-nationalist group. Neither Jacob Zuma nor Kgalema Motlanthe are clearly in either camp (but Zuma tends towards the former and Motlanthe towards the latter). Only one potential challenger, Tokyo Sexwale, is firmly in one group (the nationalists, which is the ideological home of the ANC Youth League) and he has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than winning this competition.
Only Motlanthe could seriously challenge Zuma in a succession race and despite all the rumours and leaks it is by no means clear whether he has any intention of running – or, if he did, whether he would have a significantly different policy agenda than that being pursued by Zuma and his backers.
I think the e-tolling saga is important precisely because my headline bastardising the denouement of John Donne’s famous poem is, in truth, wrong.
Gauteng’s road upgrade does not come for free.
The R20bn was borrowed by Sanral and lent by people and institutions (which) who assessed the risk attached to repayment on the basis that e-tolling was part of the deal.
This is a précis of what I told my clients about some of the political implications:
The North Gauteng High Court granted an urgent interdict on Saturday that will postpone the implementation of e-tolling until as late next year – and perhaps contribute to stopping it completely.
At this stage the court has ordered a full review of the process that will probably take at least two months to complete. If the court rules that e-tolling can go ahead the appeals process, all the way to the Constitutional Court, can take up to two years.
There are a number of significant risks associated with this decision .
The National Treasury itself, during the course of legal arguments, predicted dire consequences for South Africa’s sovereign risk rating and for public finances more generally.
I think they exaggerated but one could hardly blame them. The Treasury is the custodian of the public purse and its officials and political head carry the responsibility if R20bn that will no longer be raised from tolling has to be dug out from somewhere.
But the ruling is important for a deeper reason. South Africa, according to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address (and confirmed by a number of government and ANC statements in the last few months) is engaged in an infrastructure programme that is expected to cost just short of R1 trillion over the next 8 years.
This is the biggest bet for anyone hoping to invest in the country for the next ten years. Will it happen or will it – again – fizzle?
At least part of the funding model for this infrastructure programme is the ’user pays’ system established in the planning of the Gauteng highway upgrade project. In general, I think a user pays system is a more efficient – and fairer – system of allocating capital than unwieldy central plans that draw on the central tax pile.
Further, private sector lenders funded the project on the basis of the collection of user fees – this is how they did their calculations and assessed their risk. The ruling effects government’s credibility as a borrower.
Chris Hart (economist at Investment Solutions) is reported to have dismissed this saying the delay is no big deal – less than 0.2% of planned government expenditure this year. Goolam Ballim (chief economist at Standard Bank) said if there was a contractual infringement impacting on Sanral’s ability to pay, it did not imply sovereign default risk and “will not compromise South Africa’s international credit standing in any way”.
Now those two economists are no slouches – and know more about our public finances and the basis that the rating agencies changes the investment grades of our government bonds than I ever will – but surely it is obvious that there is a degree of damage to government (and Sanral’s) credibility as a borrower? Perhaps not as much as the Treasury argued during the urgent application. But we are coming up for strike season, the Treasury has promised to hold the line on public sector wage increases, the budget is under immense pressure and R20bn is not a meaninglessly small amount.
The whole of the South African government looks weak – with the Treasury and the Department of Transport being the most obviously and immediately affected. Both are “studying the ruling” before making public statements. These issues might not swing Standard & Poor, Fitch or Moody’s against SA bonds, but there is no question that this ruling will be part of their assessment.
The risks are clearer when we look at the political back-story. There is a changed political configuration in the Ruling Alliance. The rise of Jacob Zuma was characterised by an already growing influence of Cosatu on policy making. A Thabo Mbeki led ANC would have taken a much stronger line against Cosatu’s campaign against e-tolling and would have stood much more firmly behind the Treasury’s arguments in favour. I am not necessarily cheering for that side, but I do think the Zuma administration is beholden to Cosatu in a manner that limits its options in public finance – and that limitation is being set by a very narrow interest group.
Cosatu has – as is its wont at the moment – been tactically brilliant in this campaign. It has built a classic broad front, multi-class alliance against the e-tolls and has strengthened the group made up of Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and Numsa on the one hand and weakened the group made up of Sdumo Dlamini (Cosatu President) Frans Baleni and Num on the other. See here for more discussion on the relevant factional splits within Cosatu.
The gravitational centre of the Alliance is only weakly occupied by Zuma and “the left” in Cosatu has been able to shift the whole edifice towards itself. This is a trend that we will have to keep a close eye on during the lead-up to Mangaung, when the Zuma administration is likely to be at its most docile and weak.
And it is in this environment that Cosatu has taken on e-tolling as ‘privatisation by stealth’ and an infrastructure funding method that taps its constituency too directly. Cosatu is a sectional interest group … and is completely entitled to pursue the sectional interests of its employed worker members (employed, by definition, in ‘union jobs - and all strength and luck to them for that advantage’.)
The most important signifier issue will be how government deals with public sector wage demands over the next few months. It’s strike season, and I mentioned elsewhere, Gordhan’s budget only balanced because of the hard line he took against public sector wage increases.
To give you a sense of why that is important, this is what I said about the budget and public sector wages on February the 23rd:
Public sector wages: This is the area, to our (I wrote this with economist Sandra Gordon) mind, of least credibility with the most consequence:
Total Compensation % of total budget % yoy 2009/10 248558.0 31.8 17.7 2010/11 281619.2 33.6 13.3 2011/12 314907.2 33.9 11.8 2012/13 336959.4 33.5 7.0 2013/14 357168.2 32.7 6.0 2014/15 378148.7 32.1 5.9
Adjusted for inflation those figures in bold are heading towards zero – and remember we are talking about over 30% of the total. The public sector wage bill was R8,1bn more than budgeted for in 2011/12 and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the whole edifice of the budget could crumble on this point.
So what? … Public sector unions set the tone for industrial bargaining throughout the economy. Our main scenario, in which 2012/13 becomes an industrial relations blood-bath, is looking ever more likely – although we await, with interest, Cosatu’s formal response to Budget 2012. This proposed spending shift – if Zuma’s ANC can hold the line – is also supportive of our construction and investment relative to consumer equity theme – with the consumer sector keeping a “look-in” by social grants increases from R105bn in 2012/2013 to R122bn 2014/15 and the promise to reassess if inflation rises further.
So the e-tolling is an ongoing threat to public finances and it is an indicator issue of how beholden … and therefore weak … Zuma’s leadership is.
But there is an upside to this story. The ANC and Cosatu did agree to postpone e-tolling after their meeting last week – and announced that they had instructed government to do this (revealingly issuing a hastily retracted statement saying they would, in fact “request government to postpone”).
But the real upside is that it wasn’t, ultimately, political weakness or fiscal slippage that led to the cancelling of e-tolling. It was judicial sensitivity to popular opposition and an assertion of the principle of the rule of law.
You will be able to tell by reading between the lines that I think e-tolling was actually the right approach, but it is clear that an unaccountable system, that never bothered to consult the public properly and that, in addition, has badly damaged its own credibility in as far as corruption and maladministration is concerned, was defeated by a judge determined to uphold legal accountability and respect for popular discontent.
It might make the Treasury’s job more difficult and it might create uncertainties about funding infrastructure development, but it has got to be positive for the South African democracy as a whole.
After last week’s Cosatu strike against labour brokers and e-tolling the question of the future of the relationship between the Cosatu and the ANC has again consumed public debate.
I have quickly jotted down some of the issues as I see them and how I think the situation might play out in the longer term (and apologies for scruffiness – I am under the whip):
It is necessary to understand what these organisations are and how they differ – before we think about what they might do
Cosatu is a federation of trade unions (trades union, actually … but that always sounds a little pompous) and therefore represents employed workers while the ANC is currently the ruling political party in this country and as such represents a much broader set of interests, especially, in this case, the unemployed and business – and is additionally obliged to balance these interests against each other.
It is obvious why Cosatu must oppose labour brokers. Cosatu has spent considerable energy in influencing the ANC to structure the labour market in a way that strengthens it’s cartel-like hold on the supply of labour. Labour brokers are a way in which the unemployed and potential employers can circumvent some of the strictures of the regulatory environment. Labour brokers have helped create a shadow duality in the market – and have thus caused Cosatu to lose some control over supply.
Another way of saying this …. If you have one set of workers that are employed with the full protections and benefits afforded them by legal and regulatory structuring of the labour market and another set who are essentially desperate enough to work for less money and with less job security, then those who cannot find a place in the first set have the option of joining the second set – and employers who cannot afford to shop in the first set will shop in the second … meaning Cosatu loses control over supply.
Cosatu argues that if you make the existence of the ‘second set’ illegal it will force employers to shop in the ‘first set’ – thereby creating permanent ‘quality jobs’.
The eternal wrangle is that most economists and several ANC thinkers believe that what actually would happen (and is happening) is employers, at some difficult to determine point, decide that the costs and hassles of only having the ‘first set’ to shop in incentivises them to “shop elsewhere” – shift parts of the labour process to other countries where labour protections are less onerous on the employer, or they mechanise the labour process – hence the structural nature of our unemployment.
The ANC, on the other hand, is under the whip to create more employment – and that pressure comes directly from the unemployed. The youth wage subsidy scheme was correctly understood by Cosatu to be seen as a threatening – to its interests – attempt to create duality through the back door. The ANC agrees with Cosatu that many labour brokers are guilty of the worst excesses of free market exploitation, but propose to remedy the situation by regulating the labour brokers more carefully … not removing them completely from the market.
But what about the e-tolling?
Essentially the e-tolling issue was serendipitous timing for Cosatu. Completely separate disputes occurred in Nedlac over e-tolling and labour brokers so Cosatu had the right to declare protest strikes and marches under section 77 (1) (d) of the Labour Relations Act against either, neither or both issues – they did both. Essentially the melding of the actions allowed Cosatu to win a few class allies to its cause of opposing labour brokers. Not that e-tolling is not genuinely hated by Cosatu and the federation believes that its members will be worst effected … which should give you an insight into just who Cosatu’s members are and the difference between them and the marginalised and unemployed majority who would invariably use un-tolled public transport (mostly taxis) or travel on shank’s mare, which takes another kind of toll entirely.
Cosatu and Zuma
Cosatu clearly backed Zuma against Mbeki because it believed either that Zuma would be beholden to it and therefore allow it more policy access (which I think has essentially been true) … or just that Mbeki was a more dangerous enemy of Cosatu’s narrow agenda (something I also believe was true). There can be no argument that Zuma was more likely to hold ideological or policy agendas that were essentially closer to Cosatu’s. To my mind Cosatu was opportunistic and unprincipled – whichever way you spin it – in backing someone so clearly hell-bent on extending his control over patronage networks and making his family and friends fabulously wealthy.
One way to understand what is happening in Cosatu now is that one faction is trying to withdraw from the strategy because the Nkandla chickens are coming home to roosts, while the other faction is sticking to its guns.
I think, however, that both factions have realised that they have put too much energy into influencing national politics in the ANC and not enough energy into building up the federation’s grass-roots and factory-floor structures, membership and leadership. Trade unionism is on retreat globally – because of the globalisation of the labour market – and Cosatu is worried about not having stuck to its knitting (sorry for all the awful clichés here, but I am in something of a hurry.)
Cosatu has always had an ambiguous relationship with the ‘political movements’ – be those the United Democratic Front, Azapo or the ANC … perhaps even Inkatha should be included here. When Cosatu was established in 1985 out of the unions that had made up Fosatu (the Federation of South African Trade Unions) it immediately inherited the main debates and factions that had characterised trade unionism for years in South Africa.
The divisions centred around:
- whether to register and thereby co-operate with the Apartheid state
- whether white workers could be organised into progressive unions
- the desirability of general unions versus industry based unions
- ‘workerists’ versus ‘populists’ – which boiled down to a debate about whether unions should be involved in national politics and be in a formal relationship with the national political movements; whether they would be sucked into the agenda of those political movements and should therefore focus instead on ‘shop floor’ issues and maximum worker unity.
From the start the National Union of Mineworkers was a pro-ANC/SACP bastion within Cosatu and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, formed out of at least 6 other unions, came to represent a position more cautious and suspicious of the political movements.
Thus we have an emerging consensus in the press that Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have upped the ante against Zuma and ‘corrupt ANC leaders” while an SACP aligned faction including Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini and the powerful National Union of Mineworkers is firmly behind Zuma.
Currently Cosatu seems – to my mind – to have finessed an internal agreement between its factions to back Zuma for re-election at Mangaung in exchange for a more vigorous opposition to corruption generally in the ANC and to campaign for a more worker friendly ANC NEC to emerge out of Mangaung.
Ahead … (remember ‘tomorrow’ is the country from which no-one has ever returned … so take this all with the appropriate pinch of salt):
- The struggle will continue. Cosatu has fought with the ANC since 1994 and strong suspicions existed between much of the trade union movement and the ANC before that. This is normal, natural and appropriate given the diverging interests of the people represented by each organisation. The relationship has always contained the seeds of its future breakdown.
- Zwelinzima Vavi’s faction is most similar to a combination of European social democrats, labour parties and green parties. It is radical and anti-capitalist, but it is also modern, deeply opposed to corruption and authoritarianism, has consistently taken the right line on Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS, is protective of the constitution and freedom of speech and is most likely to seek alliances with anti-ANC ‘civil society’ groups over single issue campaigns (right to know, freedom of speech, corruption, HIV/AIDS etc.)
- The tension is inbuilt … the ANC will never give into Cosatu’s full set of demands – if anything it will go the other way – and Cosatu will never stop making the demands, louder and louder.
- At some future time – probably way down the road – the Numsa faction will ally itself with those attempting to organise the constituency the ANC Youth League aspires to represent and break out of the ruling alliance to form a new left opposition. For the foreseeable future (and remember none of the future is actually foreseeable) the advantages of staying in the alliance with the ANC outwieghs the losses and gains that would be realised by setting off on their own.
- The SACP will increasingly concern itself with trying to mediate the relationship between Cosatu and the ANC – which effectively means it will support the Num faction or tendency in Cosatu. This is not a basis upon which a political party can sustain itself. The SACP would have to split from the ANC and fight elections on its own – essentially capture the space that a Numsa/ANCYL type breakaway might have occupied – if it was to grow and prosper. I don’t think this will happen and therefore I think the SACP will be gradually squeezed into irrelevance.
Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:
Firstly – a by-product of Malema’s (possible) retreat
I have a feeling that debates ranging from mine nationalisation, land distribution and continued white economic dominance in the South African economy have just been saved from the gangsters in the ANC Youth League who have been using these as a cover for looting.
It has been difficult not to lump every statement about ongoing race based inequality with the smokescreen slogans used by the ANC Youth League leadership – and many equally corrupt politicians.
The latest Commission of Employment Equity Annual Report says whites still occupy 73.1 percent of top management positions – and blacks 12.7, Indians 6.8 and coloureds 4.6? Yeah, well they would say that wouldn’t they – after all, that is (one of) Jimmy Manyi’s old outfits and he is the grandmaster of running racial interference for pillaging resources destined for development!
Willing-seller, willing buyer policy of land distribution responsible for only 5 percent of redistribution targets met? Yeah, well, guess who are trying to get themselves a portfolio of farms a la Zanu-PF?
Nationalise the mines? Yeah, so you can rescue your BEE backers and get a piece of the action yourself?
But that was last week.
Those issues are back on the agenda, but this time the discussion might be led by people genuinely looking to harness the country’s resources for development and transformation – not looters, corrupt tenderpreneurs and “demagogic populists” disguising their true intentions.
If anyone thought we could go on with the levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty and racially skewed distribution of ownership and control of this economy I suspect they will find they have been very much mistaken.
One of the consequences of the retreat of the Malema agenda is that we will all have to deal with the issues we have, up until now, been able to dismiss or deflect because they were ‘owned” and propagated by thugs.
Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is
In a similar vein – and my favourite read of the week – was Itumeleng Mahabane’s column in Friday’s Business Day.
He deals with a variety of aspects of the country’s debates about development and transformation.
In tones that have been tightly stripped – of anger, I suspect – Mahabane appeals for the debate to lose the “prejudicial invectives” and that participants should “desist from creating cardboard villains”.
He makes 4 main points (actually he makes a whole lot more, and it is not impossible that I misinterpret him here – and he is certainly more subtle and nuanced than my summary below – so read the original column – the link again.)
Firstly he suggests (although in the form of a question, not the statement as I have it here) that we have to acknowledge the damage our Apartheid past has done our country, leaving “the inequity of our income distribution and the historic systematic destruction of black capability”.
Secondly he hints that the state cannot assume more economic responsibility before we have fixed accountability – and thereby arrested corruption.
Thirdly he appeals for a sophistication of our views on the labour market – I think by suggesting that a degree of duality is crucial.
But, he warns:
I do not subscribe to the simplistic and questionable idea that the inability to hire and fire people is the core cause of structural unemployment. The balanced high growth would create demand for labour, regardless of labour rigidity.
Fourthly he asked us analysts why:
we casually, without considering the social implications, vilify workers and the working class, making them useful villains for complex economic challenges? We almost never give view to the body of evidence that shows that market rigidity and anticompetitive behaviour is a significant factor in deterring investment and output and that, in fact, it contributes to SA’s excessive business and skilled-labour rents.
Those are important views – and an important corrective to aspects of our debate about development.
You might have picked up from warm and welcoming statements by the Democratic Alliance and a flood of beaming news stories that our Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan said something slightly more exciting about economic policy than the bland pap from the policy kitchen of the increasingly awkward compromise which is the Ruling Alliance.
But before anyone gets too excited we should look at exactly what he said.
First up, in the main body of his speech to the 14th annual conference of the Board of the Institute of Internal Auditors – a body I suspect has hitherto not been allowed to bask at the centre of an important breaking news story – he suggested as part of his list of things that need to be done to “energetically reposition, restructure and reform our economy” :
Lower the cost of young, inexperienced low-skilled workers for firms to stimulate the demand for labour
That is from the paper as published on the the Treasury’s website – catch that here – it is well worth a read.
Then press stories – this from the New Age – seem to imply that he took things a little further in discussion. I give you the full text below, especially as the journalist has left off quotation marks on the key sentence, making me wonder if this is more a case of hearing what you want to hear than it is an accurate reflection of exactly what the minister said:
The New Growth Path envisages the creation of five million jobs by 2020. Gordhan suggested that South Africa might have to relax its labour laws in certain cases to grow jobs. “We may have to change the way we see the labour dispensation in South Africa,” he said.
For example, a balance needed to be found to retain the jobs of the 10,000 people working at clothing factories in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, while still allowing them to earn a reasonable wage and keeping the factories open.
There is no doubt in my mind that the inflexibility of our labour market is partly responsible for the high levels of unemployment in this country.
I have tired of pointing out that as the representative of the ‘already employed’ Cosatu is not to be trusted to talk on behalf of the ‘unemployed’ – with whom its interests often conflict (see here, but a number of other places as well).
The Minister of Finance’s job is to find an economic policy that somehow reflects the national interest – and not the sectional interest of organised labour.
The most important government priority is to find ways to grow the economy in a manner that helps create the greatest number of jobs.
With a government gone soft in the middle, led by a compromised and beholden president, it is a relief to hear someone in power, however tentatively, at least name the nettle if not actually grasp it.
Capitalism, at its most basic and unbridled, is a system that says: okay, the king is dead and therefore no longer owns all this stuff; take what you can … if you can hold onto it, it’s yours. Oh yeah, and you can pay the people who don’t manage to hang onto any stuff to work yours … because if they don’t they will starve.
On your marks, get set … go!
The system is extraordinarily productive, driven as it is by those gargantuan twin-thrust engines: human greed and human fear (you can keep what you can take/failure means death).
One of the great political achievements of the last 300 years has been the refining, softening and regulating of this system so that it maximises the good it can produce for as many as possible.
But note this: it can’t produce the same amount of good for everybody – because its fundamental driver is that it allows the hungriest, cleverest, most creative and most intelligent to keep what they can take. That’s why those people build the enterprise. So they can keep what they can get out of it. That’s the creative heart of the system.
(One of the many flaws of capitalism is it also allows those who have become powerful for reasons other than those listed in the last sentence to “keep what they can take”. Thus both Apartheid apparatchiks and New Elite cronies are (still) living high on the hog for reasons that have nothing to do with the unleashing of their creative spirit and more to do with their ability to cheat and steal. But that is another story.)
The point I wanted to make, is that in its most basic and unregulated form capitalism will allow the owner of the factory or mine to extract the last drop of blood from the worker – and the last drop of blood from his children, his old mum and his maiden aunt. Without regulation the only thing that will stop the capitalist working the worker to death is the need to have him come to work tomorrow and for his children to come to work in ten years time. The history of capitalism has demonstrated this unfortunate truth about humans time and time again.
Thus we have labour market regulations: minimum wages, basic working conditions, rights to dignity, rights to organise and strike. These are amongst our greatest achievements – and they are all there on the law books of the new South Africa.
But there is a line over which we must not cross.
When the law, in effect, demands that the capitalist share equally the profits of the enterprise with the workers, the enterprise is over.
If local regulation means the capitalist can’t make sufficient profit here he (or she) will go elsewhere or will spend his or her time doing something else. That’s it; end of factory, end of jobs and end of story.
Michael Spicer, as CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, is the perfect person to listen to if you want to get an average signal of what South African capitalists are feeling.
His comment in today’s Business Day about the conflict between the flood of proposed changes to labour and employment equity laws and government’s job creation agenda is well worth a read. Catch it here.
It seems to me we are carelessly testing for the “tipping point”, the point beyond which the capitalists mechanise their plants or leave.
Cosatu has released its long awaited document in which it provides the facts (as it sees them) and theoretical underpinnings for “A Growth Path Towards Full Employment” – and in doing so attempts to align its views with those emanating from Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Department of Economic Planning (the Two Year Strategic Plan) as well as Minister Rob Davies of DTI’s (IPAP2).
Stephen Grootes at the Daily Maverick has done an exemplary quick analysis (catch that here). I am not quite certain I am as gung-ho capitalist as the guys down at the the DM are … although I am as clear as Grootes is that Cosatu’s main planks of policy would turn us into a wasteland in two flicks of a lamb’s tail – as not even my old Granny was prissy enough to say.
I saved a copy of Cosatu’s full document here and hope to give it a more thorough treatment than the cursory skim I gave it in the middle of last night. Whatever I conclude will be faithfully reported on these pages.
The news media is full of toyi-toying fat people in red T-shirts blockading hospital gates interspersed with pictures of dead and dying babies.
Alternatively the coverage is of other fat people in red T-shirts clutching sticks and whips trundling around, with their fat bottoms swaying, looking for pupils (bravely trying to uplift themselves by continuing their studies during the public sector wide strike) to beat and otherwise disrupt.
There is a degree of truth in the story… I mean, turn on your television, they’re everywhere, with their megaphones and coffee flasks (and clearly a lot of biscuits and sandwiches), belligerent and unattractive as it is possible to be.
But I suspect that we should treat the picture and the solutions that seem obvious (and are being offered by every newspaper and television station in the country – with unusual unanimity) with more than a degree of caution.
It’s impossible to realistically analyse the strike here – and anyway that is work I have to try to sell to a paying client – but there are some questions I would urge us all to bear in mind.
I lay some of them out here as bullet points:
- Government has offered 7% with a R700 housing allowance (an offer that amounts, according to the employer, to between 9.4 percent and 8.5 percent, depending on grade) and unions are demanding 8.6 percent wage increase across the board and housing allowance of R1 000. This seems closer than it is – the difference between the offer and counter offer, when aggregated across the public sector, makes a huge difference to the fiscus and to the actual take home value of the workers’ pay packages. Both parties have something to fight for.
- Workers strike at great cost to themselves – generally, by-and-large and when all the exceptions are smoothed out. Try for a moment and to imagine risking your job and deliberately deciding to take on being portrayed as greedy, callous and on a kind of stolen holiday. This is especially true in the public sector, where the customers you are involved in servicing are your neighbours, their children and the sick of your community.
- We have the highest levels of inequality (measured by something called the Gini coefficient) of any country that keeps realistic figures in the world – and if not ‘in the world’ then we are in the company of only one or two others. In a public sector wage conflict the employer is government (with politicians representing the owners and the senior bureaucrats the managers). The differential between the earnings of public sector workers and their employers – both of whom take their pay package from the public purse – is a factor many times higher than in most countries in the world. When you add to this the public perception (and the strikers are part of that public) that the politicians are engaged in a nasty, sharp-toothed feeding frenzy at the aching teat of the public purse, ransacking the long built up assets of the public sector and using every mechanism possible to extort money from the private sector, is their any wonder that public sector workers see their lot as unfair?
- Cosatu and its various member unions and the worker leadership “on the ground”, so to speak, is getting the kind of press it deserves. The behaviour of too many striking workers is so unacceptable that the unions are inviting a Maggie Thatcher to emerge from these battered streets to crush them and reformulate the South African economy to be a growth machine that will benefit merchant bankers and the rich … and no-one else. And the public will cheer that politician on, because the unions have not bothered to see the middle-ground as worth fighting for.
- This strike - as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. It imposes upon the vague conflict between Nationalists and “Tenderpreneurs” on the one hand, and trade unions and communists on the other, a clear organisational character and a clear set of objectives and costs over which the contenders deeply disagree. Government might find more money. The unions might shift an inch to meet government’s next offer but I suspect this is the moment that South African politics has been circling ever since Mbeki slapped the unions and “the left” into a subservient position over ten years ago. I am not awaiting a formal announcement by Vavi that he is leading his cohorts into the wilderness. But I expect that in practice the unions and the communists will be out of government within the next few years (Perhaps even more than they were “out of government” under Mbeki … and I use “the next few years” to give myself a margin).
This week is going to be full of the strike and its consequences. It is, ultimately, not a hugely profound point, but now, more than ever, we need to urge caution in seeing the world as a simple representation between good guys and bad. This impulse, to see things as if they were simple and easy to understand, is increasingly the direction of public discourse on radio, newspaper and television. We need a kind of private media tribunal in our heads.