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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.

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.

 

… which I entirely doubt will be made glorious summer by this sun of KZN when he gives his 5th nth State of the Nation Address this evening.

I am not, as my children might have said, very amped for this.

The only ray of light so far (I am watching on eNCA) was a brief interview with Floyd Shivambu who suggested it should be a ‘state of the resignation address’ … that if the President couldn’t make it to the Cabinet Lekgotla ‘then it would be best for him to just come here to explain that he is just too old and tired and to say goodbye’ – or words to that effect.

I thought I would use the time to publish some bits and pieces that I have sent to my clients over the last week.

The winter of our discontent – as the labour relations cycle meets a secular trend

Every year at this time South Africa is engulfed in strikes as annual wage agreements are traditionally renegotiated in several sectors of the economy. Every year analysts and journalists pontificate widely about the dire labour relations conditions – and the gloom deepens because this all takes place in winter.

Three factors this year are probably going to make the outlook more negative and threatening.

Firstly, the post national election winter has, since 1994, been characterised by spikes in service delivery protests. The causes of this phenomenon are not fully understood, but it is likely that:

  • voters confronting a hostile winter and declining services levels – so soon after being promised the earth by politicians – are likely to be unsettled;
  • local politicians who failed to make party lists begin mobilising factional support, perhaps to stand as candidates in 2016 local government elections, perhaps to discredit those whose positions they covet.

Secondly, the platinum strike is being driven by a number of ‘political’ factors – as discussed previously.

Thirdly Numsa is showing clear signs that its political aspirations are, as we predicted, going to drive deeper and more robust strikes and labour unrest. One sign is the growing violence as Numsa attempts to widen its action at the Ngqura container terminal in the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth.  The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (a Cosatu union) is opposing the Numsa strike and is calling for its members to stay at work at the Transnet facility. However, both Transnet and Satawu were quoted on radio (SAFM 20h00 news broadcast 08/06/2014) as decrying the burning of houses and cars of the workers who were at work. The SATAWU spokesperson warned that the situation had similar dynamics to those that were present in the platinum sector in 2012 – that this ‘is just like what happened with Amcu (same broadcast).

Additionally, Numsa is preparing to lead 220,000 workers out on strike from the metals and engineering sector next month. “The bargaining negotiations have spectacularly failed to produce the desired outcomes as expected by the thousands of our members in the sector,” spokesman Castro Ngobese said in a statement quoted in The Herald (5/06/2014). Numsa’s core demands includes a 15% pay rise and a one-year bargaining agreement, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa, which represents 23 employer associations) has offered an inflation-linked increase of 6.1 percent.

So what?

This is the cycle meeting the secular trend, with each driving the other deeper than either would have been driven ordinarily. Numsa is in the  process of breaking away from Cosatu and is beginning to vigorously compete with other Cosatu unions in overlapping sectors (container terminals, the big electricity generation projects and down and upstream mining and metallurgy operations).  This is, at least partly, about Numsa preparing to set up a ‘left’ party to compete for votes in the future. Comparable (but not identical) dynamics are driving the platinum strike. A winter with ‘normally’ increased social and industrial unrest will probably become unusually bleak and unwelcoming in the months ahead. The impact on GDP growth and on the possibility of ratings downgrades are both important considerations.

 

X Rated

Both Fitch and Standard & Poor made references on Friday (13/06/2014) to increased political risk when they changed their views on the South African government’s willingness and ability to pay the sovereign debt.

Fitch revised the outlook for South Africa to negative from stable and affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings at BBB and BBB+ respectively. S&P downgraded both the country’s local and foreign currency ratings by one notch from A- to BBB+ and BBB to BBB-  respectively, but moved its outlook negative to stable. None of this is a catastrophe  but of interest to us here is the central role of ‘politics’ in the given reasons for both Fitch’s and S&P’s changes.

Fitch says it most baldly in the press release announcing the change in outlook (my emphasis added):

“Following its election victory in May with 62% of the vote, the African National Congress government faces a challenging task to raise the country’s growth rate and improve social conditions, which has been made more difficult by the weaker growth performance and deteriorating trends in governance and corruption. This will require an acceleration of structural reforms, such as those set out in the comprehensive National Development Plan (NDP). In Fitch’s view, the track record of some key ministerial appointments and shortcomings in administrative capacity mean this is subject to downside risks.”

Fitch gives amongst the key drivers of its more negative outlook: “Increased strike activity, high wage demands and electricity constraints represent negative supply side shock.”

Standard and Poor’s downgrade was similarly motivated but adds some additional concerns:

“While we think that President Jacob Zuma’s newly elected administration will continue the policies of his first administration, which controlled fiscal expenditure and fostered broadly stable prices, we do not believe it will manage to undertake major labor or other economic reforms that will significantly boost GDP growth”.

My initial take on the new Cabinet is supportive of these motivations.

In addition both agencies made extensive reference to the negative industrial relations environment – and the negative impacts on GDP growth and government revenues. There is a significant political dimension driving industrial unrest – as I have argued above.

So what?

The validity of the actual ratings and ratings outlook of these agencies is much disputed[1] but the issues they use to motivate their views are interesting because they (the agencies) are cautious; clinging to a sort of ‘average view’ of investors. So if political criticism makes its way into the text (as is the case in both these instances) we are obliged to consider that these may represent, or may come to represent, a general view in markets.

South Africa has a small open economy and liquid financial markets and the difference that policy makers can make to economic outcomes is limited. But even within those limitations too many political choices (certain cabinet appointments, corruption controls, delivery performance and the honest brokering of labour contestation) are either not helping or are actively negative.

[1]No-one could have failed to notice the excoriating criticism of the credit rating agencies (CRAs) after their generalised failure to accurately assess the risks associated with the collateralised debt obligations allegedly because they were mostly issued by the CRAs biggest paying clients! However, it is the opposite with sovereigns: “It has also been suggested that the credit agencies are conflicted in assigning sovereign credit ratings since they have a political incentive to show they do not need stricter regulation by being overly critical in their assessment of governments they regulate.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_rating_agency (accessed 13h56 16/06/2014.

 

The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions

I  dealt with this issue last week, but it is making bigger and more anxiety provoking headlines than ever.

So what

The NDPP was drawn into the fight between Mbeki and Zuma and since that time has limped along to the rhythm of one or other faction aligned to competing interests within the ANC seizing or losing power in the institution. This is not a situation in which one could safely choose one set of ‘good guys’ and back them against another set of ‘bad guys’. The situation is complex but relates primarily to the on-going struggle to either ensure that certain senior political leaders are brought to justice or to ensure that they are not.

The NDPP is one of the most important institutions of the justice system, and without certainty and stability here it is impossible to have certainty about the operating environment for any business in the country. This is a serious problem and it appears to be getting worse under the current administration.

 

Platinum Strike

(This is a bit dated, but you might be interested in my rude remarks about the new minister.)

“Government is ready to wash its hands of the protracted wage strike by platinum mineworkers in Rustenburg” according to the Sunday Independent 08/06/2014. Mines minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi threatened to pull out his inter-ministerial task team if a settlement was not reached at the last scheduled government facilitated meeting, which is due to take place today.

In addition, a formal ANC statement delivered by Gwede Mantashe at a press conference in Luthuli House in Johannesburg last night after the ANC weekend lekgotla[1] characterised the strike in a way that seemed to destroy the remote possibility that Ramatlhodi could have made a difference anyway:

“The articulation of AMCU position by white foreign nationals, signalling interest of the foreign forces in the distabilisation (sic) of our economy.

The direct participation of EFF in the negotiations, and thus collaboration with the foreign forces.

These two factors led the lekgotla into cautioning the Ministry of Mineral Resources in handling the facilitation with care. There were questions about the role of the state in workplace disputes where there are clear rules guiding it.”

This statement is interesting precisely because it borders on the bizarre

So what

The ANC statement indicates shows just why the new ANC minister cannot be an honest or effective broker in the negotiation – and it is therefore unsurprising that he is preparing to withdraw his team. The ANC is compelled to believe that this strike is only not ‘negotiable’ in the normal manner because the real issues driving it are political  and not about wages at all. The ANC might be correct about the strike being ‘political’ but the party itself is culpable of having politicised the strike by attempting to defend its Num ally against the vigorously growing Amcu, by alienating workers by characterising their union as ‘vigilantes’ and by the ‘Marikana massacre itself.’ s – There was never any real possibility of this government mediating between the parties or influencing the outcome.

 

Concerns about property rights

The South African Institute of Race Relations and AfriBusiness (AfriSake) have recently released warnings about property rights in South Africa. A proper assessment of these warning would require specialist legal opinions, but our own assumptions have long been that the South African Constitution provides adequate protections for private property (see here) and the ANC government is unlikely to risk fiddling with these principles.

However it seems to be a basic due diligence requirement to keep an eye on the risk – perhaps more so since Jacob Zuma spelled out at his Cabinet announcement (reiterating many recent ANC and SACP statements) that we are entering a “more radical” phase of economic transformation.

With this is mind, we reproduce the basic summary of legal concerns AfriBusiness and the South African Institute of Race Relations have raised in their research (note that below is a direct quote from the AfriBusiness statement linked above):

  1. The National Development Plan has as its aim the transfer of 20% of the agricultural land in a district to black recipients, at only 50% of the value as determined by the state (in terms of the Property Valuation Bill).
  2. The verdict of the Constitutional Court in April 2013 in the case of AgriSA v the Minister of Minerals and Energy distinguishes between “deprivation” and “expropriation”. After the verdict the state is able to dispossess and redistribute property, as long as the state does not assume ownership of the property and act (sic) only as custodian.
  3. The Green Paper on Land Reform aims a radical redesign of property rights, with inter alia a type of freehold on land which will drastically limit the rights of owners. Within this context a Land Management Commission is proposed, which will have discretionary powers regarding disputes over title deeds.
  4. The policy proposal by the Minister of Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, for “Strengthening the rights of workers working the land” aims to transfer 50% of the land to the workers, commensurate with their term of service. No compensation will be paid to the owner.
  5. The Expropriation Bill poses that expropriation may be used for the public interest and public goal. The Bill is not only applicable to land but will cover all types of property. Public interest and public goal are determined in an ad hoc manner and both have restitution as aim.
  6. The Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill allows state intervention in investment processes. The Bill explicitly provides for expropriation at less than market value. All in the name of so-called restitution. Any property used for commercial purposes is targeted by the Bill.
  7. The Infrastructure Development Bill aims to eliminate so-called inequalities in infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission is granted the authority to expropriate in the public interest and for the public goal.
  8. The Spatial Planning and Management of Land Use Act aims at centralized planning of land ownership. It proposed so-called spatial justice by integrating low and high cost housing in residential developments.
  9. The Extension of the Security of Tenure Amendment Bill expands the rights of occupants and their dependents. Evictions are strictly controlled and the Amendment Bill means a significant loss in control over property.
  10. The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill creates further political and economic uncertainty regarding the future of property rights.
  11. The Rental Housing Amendment Bill proposes stricter regulation of the rental property market. Rental Tribunals will be established to hear disputes and will be able to determine increases in rent.
  12. The National Water Amendment Bill and Policy Review prohibits the trading of water rights and proposes a use-it-or-lose-it principle for water rights. Equality (including racial transformation) becomes the criterium (sic) for the allocation and re-allocation of water rights.

Consume that with the requisite amount of salt but keep an eye on the detail.

 

[1]Sesotho loan word meaning court or community council meeting; used in the South African context a “lekgotla is a meeting called by government, Cabinet or the ANC to discuss strategy planning”. Wikipedia accessed 04h30 09/06/2014.

 

There is something strangely compelling about Chris Griffith’s now infamous comments about his salary and perks – published in Business Day last week.

Remember these are the words of the CEO of Amplats, the biggest platinum company in the world. It cannot have escaped your notice that a bitter and grinding strike throughout the South African platinum sector is entering its 17th week. The Business Day story about the comments also refers to the 2013 Amplats annual report that mentions Mr Griffiths was paid R17.6m, of which R6.7m was a basic salary, for that year.

I have put the following quotes from Chris Griffith in the order in which they appear in the story but they did not necessarily flow together like this in the original interview:

If this debate is around the comparison of CEO pay and somebody else, then we’re completely missing the point. There is a greater supply of lower-skilled people … What the unions are doing is putting more people out on the street … Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth.

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

I wish to apologise to the employees of Anglo American Platinum and the readership for comments I made in a Business Day article on Wednesday … My choice of words was inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

But the truth of the matter is that Griffith’s original comments are clearly what the company believes because this is what it does. Everything else is public relations and spin.

At the AGM of a listed company shareholders vote approval or otherwise of executive remuneration. So in one way or another the actual owners of this company are happy to pay Griffith’s fee. The company either believes he is worth that (and they pay him for it) or they do not believe he is worth it (and they pay him less … and perhaps he doesn’t accept the job.)

This might feel monstrous and unfair to you and me – especially when we read of the hardship experienced by the workers on those mines and the sacrifices they seem prepared to make to improve their lot. But in the world in which these hugely powerful companies operate, supply and demand is the basic mechanism that determines the price of everything.

I don’t like euphemisms – it is (almost) always better to see the snarling teeth of the beast rather than to be beguiled by its fake smile.

The whole exchange reminds me of a P. J. O’Rourke essay I read several years ago.

He’s talking about bigotry in apartheid South Africa (and be warned he uses language often considered to be rude or impolite*):

Everywhere you go in the world somebody’s raping women, expelling the ethnic Chinese, enslaving stone-age tribesmen, shooting communists, rounding up Jews, kidnapping Americans, settling fire to Sikhs, keeping Catholics out of the country clubs and hunting peasants from helicopters with automatic weapons. The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The problem with South Africans is they admit it. They don’t say, like the French, “Algerians have a legal right to live in the sixteenth arrondissement, but they can’t afford to.” They don’t say, like the Israelis, “Arabs have a legal right to live in West Jerusalem, but they’re afraid to.” They don’t say, like the Americans, “Indians have a legal right to live in Ohio, but oops, we killed them all.” The South Africans just say, “Fuck you.” I believe it’s right there in their constitution: “Article IV: Fuck you. We’re bigots.” We hate them for this. And we’re going to hold indignant demonstrations…until the South Africans learn to stand up and lie like white men.

That’s P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays In Hell,  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. It’s very, very funny – albeit irritatingly smug and right-wing. I have long since lost the book, but I found that quote here.

 

(Below anxiously added a few hours after initial publication.)

* And be further warned that he (O’Rourke) is sneakily winking at apartheid … weellll, at least they** don’t lie about it! 

** And be even further warned that he talked about “South Africans” in 1988 as if the term referred elusively exclusively to white South Africans who supported apartheid.

(Lawdy, enough already! Just leave it alone, the damage is done – Ed.)

(… and finally, despite Ed’s protestations, and after having glanced over this several weeks after publishing it: PJO also failed to understand the systemic and systematic nature of apartheid …. ‘hunting peasants from helicopters’ is an outrage, but comparing that to ‘apartheid’, the specific historical system of government and social control for a whole country,  is a category error.)

 

 

(Note: please read Jonny Steinberg’s comments on my miscasting of the implications of the recent HSRC’s South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012. Jonny argues that I have taken “a story of resounding success and twisted it into a tale of alarm”. Jonny Steinberg is correct on all counts and I hope to redress my error  at some time in the near future. Catch his brief criticism and my initial mea culpa in the comments section here.)

 Before it gets too out of date, herewith my last week’s (Monday 14 April) news update … it’s worth it just for Ronnie Kasrils’s comments about Zuma.

  • Employment equity in South Africa is glacially slow and will continue to help drive regulatory and political uncertainty
  • A spoilt ballot campaign and some unusually forthright statements from ANC leaders about corruption in their party and government
  • Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters on

Employment equity – dead slow ahead

Last week the Commission for Employment Equity released its 14th Annual report (available here) indicating glacial progress in making workplaces more representative of the demographic profile of the South African Economically Active Population (EAP).

Below is an indicator of race and gender breakdown of the working population as a whole:

Politics1

Original Source: Statistics South Africa, (QLFS 3 2013)

In the report’s ‘Top Management’ category, the trend between 2003 and 2013 is strikingly poor:

Employment equity reports 2003 - 2013

Employment equity reports 2003 – 2013

(The report uses categories: Top Management, Senior Management, Professionally Qualified and Skilled. The Department of Labour begun collecting data on ‘foreign natlonals’ as a distinct fraction of the EAP from only 2006.)

The performance is best in the government sector, but this only slightly improves the overall picture:

Employment equity reports 2013

Employment equity reports 2013

There have been some improvements at the lower end (Skilled Technical):

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

However, not unsurprisingly, the Employment Equity Commission believes this is not good enough in itself, nor is it adequate compensation for failures elsewhere.

(The Commission is a statutory body that reports to the Department of Labour and operates within the aegis of Employment Equity Act, 1998 – amended by Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013.)

So what?

Poor performance by the private sector in reaching employment equity targets is a constant irritant to government and to the ‘designated groups’ (Africans, Coloureds, Indians, women and people with disabilities). Employers might argue that the administrative burden of the act is counter-productive and that the top employment categories require skills that are relatively scarce amongst the ‘designated groups’. However, the political consequence of the failure gradually adds to the risks in the operating environment.

Employment equity legislation in South Africa has, since 1998, tended not to concentrate on sanctions to enforce compliance. However it is apparent that government is gradually increasing the pressure. The Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013 increases fines for non-compliance – both with regard to reporting requirements and with regard to targets.

The African National Congress is increasingly challenged by radical populists (e.g., the EFF) and a militant left-wing (e.g., the incipient Numsa breakaway from Cosatu) which together argue that black South Africans have failed to adequately benefit from ‘liberation’. Part of the answer to this challenge from the ruling party is likely to be a rapid escalation of pressure around employment equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment.

There will be an increasing burden on all companies operating in the country and increased government hostility to defaulters. The ANC will not be tempted towards the nationalisation policy platforms of the emerging populist and leftist groups, but must find an answer that satisfies its constituency in the rapidly growing black middle class.

Spoiled ballot campaign

Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister, and long-time leader of the African National Congress, has embarked on a campaign with some other disaffected ANC members to call for a spoiled ballot in the May 7 election.

So what?

Nothing much, except that this is probably the tip of an iceberg of discontent in the African National Congress. Perhaps what is significant is that despite the emergence of the EFF and Numsa breakaways, and the apparent success of the DA campaign, many dissidents in the ANC still find themselves unable to follow a party other than the ANC.

Kasrils’s main problem with the ANC is what he perceives as a spread of serious corruption and abuse of public funds at a senior level in government and the party.

Obviously the strategic or tactical value of a spoiled ballot will be a matter of deep controversy.

(My own view is that Kasrils and his colleagues are well within their rights to propagate this option – it is, however, not an option I will be pursuing.)

Most interesting

What is most interesting is to read Kasrils’s comments about Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders in the interview with published in the City Press yesterday. I quote him here in-depth, because of how unusually explicit his mode of expression is and because I believe this view is representative of a significant group of ANC insiders, deeply unhappy with their party, but not yet ready to leave it:

People will tell you and it has been stated from people in exile and I can confirm – (that) he (Zuma) was a pretty simple guy. He wasn’t a person who was looking for fancy clothes and flash cars. He was pretty down to earth … I did see a certain ambition there by acquiring so many feminine relationships and wives and then children … (But Zuma has) changed very dramatically. Here is a man who comes back to South Africa and you can imagine how worried he must have been, how he was going to take care of this kind of menagerie … And then there are the people, capitalists, with money in their back pockets, who were looking at the new political power and pounced like vultures … There were some who were only too happy in the embrace because they did not have to worry about the wolf at the door, how they would have to pay the bills, how they were going to educate their kids, where they find a way to house their women … from then on, what happens to your fine principles of serving the people first and thinking of the key things that are necessary when you are now in league, and in bed, with people who become your sponsors? From that point of view, you change.

My view is that the people who now run the ANC, not every one of them, but there is an elite that has become incredibly corrupt that managed to take over – take power from Mbeki and kick him out and it’s just been downhill ever since with this system just rolling on like a snowball becoming larger and larger.

Ronnie Kasrils, City Press 13/04/2014

(Again, my personal views on whether Mbeki, Zuma or none-of-the-above are the root of all evil might differ somewhat from Kasrils’s but I think his plain speaking here is useful anyway.)

Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters briefly on

Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday last week was widely expected to be the close-to-final act in the trade union federation’s unravelling. However an ANC delegation led by Cyril Ramaphosa persuaded the Zuma loyalists as well the Zwelinzima Vavi-led faction to postpone a final showdown till after the elections. (Such a ‘final showdown’ is ostensibly about the suitability and prudence of the Vavi, but is actually about loyalty to Jacob Zuma to the ANC’s policy positions.)

So what

Again, it is interesting to note the interaction between fragmentation and momentum in the ruling alliance. The ideas and history (mythological or otherwise) that bind the members and supporters to the ANC make the split that is happening bizarrely protracted. However, there is no question that several splits in the ruling alliance are, in fact, in process. It is tactically important for Vavi and Numsa to hold on within Cosatu for as long as possible. Cosatu remains terrain which neither contestant feels ready to abandon to the other.

 

The Numsa exit from the alliance is a natural consequence of what appears to me to be a ‘Maggie Thatcher moment’ in South African politics.

(This is a loose characterisation and it purely means that I believe there is evidence that government is taking a much harder line with the union movement and is backing the private sector to do the same. As you will see in the final slide I do not think it is strictly accurate to define this moment as Thatcherite, but I do believe the metaphor has some value i.e. that Cosatu is collapsing because the ANC under Zuma is forcing it to come into line.)

Below is an extract from a piece of my weekly news commentary published just after SONA 2014 … and below that are three slides from a presentation I delivered in November last year – thanks to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities, as always, for allowing me to republish here.

Amplats to sue Amcu for strike related damages – various news reports (17/02/2014)

Several news outlets reported on Sunday that Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) will sue the Association of Mining and Construction Union for R591m. “The company seeks payment of damages caused by Amcu’s failures to adhere to the law, damage to property, increased costs to pay protection services staff overtime, and loss of production because non-striking workers were prevented from working” – Amplats statement quoted in the Sunday Times 16/02/2014.

So what?

I think a combination of factors are making it probable that the major platinum companies will use this strike to attempt to reset the balance of power between the companies and labour in the sector. The legal action by Amplats is probably part of such a generally agreed strategy by companies in the sector.

My reasoning includes the following supporting conjectures:

  • Management will not want to again make the mistakes in made in 2012. The damage suffered by the platinum companies during that year – when unions appeared to push their advantage with little resistance or any coherent counterstrategy from management – led, in part, to the state clumsily stepping in, with Marikana the centrepiece of the gruesome consequences.
  • (According to various media, for example the Business Day) the platinum market is in oversupply, the companies are cash flush and the rand is weak – an ideal combination of conditions that would assist the companies ‘digging in’ and waiting for Amcu to break.
  •  It is increasingly clear that the union resources are stretched to the limit and strikers are carrying high levels of unsecured debt which makes both strikers and their union unable to last more than one payday

I am suggesting that the companies have tacit government support in taking a hard line with the strike. Amcu is, after all, the union that displaced key ANC ally Num and any strategy to break Amcu would probably be tacitly supported by the ruling party (although this is not something the ANC could admit to.)

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis put it best when he said Amplats’s action would restore the balance of power and send out a message that unreasonable pay demands and irresponsible union action would not be tolerated. He summarised Amplats’ intention as to “bankrupt Amcu and get rid of this militant and irresponsible union once and for all; or to send out a strong message to Amcu and all other trade unions that Amplats has had enough of union bullying; or to merely place Amcu under huge pressure to call off the strike and accept the final offer made by the companies.”

What is clear to me, is Amplats would only be behaving in the vigorous and hard-line manner if it has been given the tacit support of government. Zuma’s SONA2014 statement that “We cannot have industrial conflict that destroys the economy” is the visible spine of a deep seam of just such support.

… and then as part of the background that leads me to those conclusions, 3 slides from a presentation entitled “The Curate’s Egg” from November last year:

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

I have been agonising over whether to keep this website going –  or to consign it to the wastelands of the interwebs there to wander mournfully, accumulating lurid advertisements for secret ways of getting rid of belly fat and invitations from young, beautiful and lonely people, in your area, waiting by their phones for a call from you.

After weighing matters too arcane to bore you with here I decided to gird my sagging loins (that’s long and loose clothing, not that other thing you were thinking – Ed) and once more into the breach … and all of that.

So … I have written various 2014 previews. One you may have seen was for the Mail & Guardian and titled ‘What I will be telling investors in 2014′. I would have liked to give it a better edit – and I think I don’t adequately deal with the issue of the corroding effects of the original arms scandal – but you may be interested in reading it anyway. Catch it here.

I also published in early January, as part of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities’ 2014 Outlook, the overview below. (Thanks, as always, to my main contract holder for generously allowing me to republish a few weeks later here.)

(Remember, no-one has been to the future and returned with any useful information as far as I am aware … so treat the following with a healthy degree of scepticism – Ed)

Political outlook 2014: No safe haven in the storm

Introduction

At least part of our sanguine view of South African politics has rested on the belief that the ANC had several more decades of 60%-plus support at the polls. We were of the view that while this could lead to corruption, complaisance and cronyism, it would also allow the party to keep the country, government and constitution steady while SA undertook a wrenching transformation from its apartheid past to whatever the future held.

However, several important fissures have appeared in the ANC’s support base that suggest this assumption of indefinite ruling party dominance may not be correct and, therefore, that the essentially benign shepherding of that transition is under strain.

Amcu: bridgehead in previously safe African working-class constituency

Firstly, the success of the Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) in the mining (particularly platinum) sector has led to the virtual collapse of a key ANC labour ally, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num). Amcu is important for a number of reasons, but in this section, the issue is that it has created a bridgehead in the ANC’s core constituency that has every possibility of linking up with new left-wing (or in other ways radical) political formations that will challenge the ANC politically in the next few years.

Julius Malema and the formation of the EFF

Secondly, the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC and his formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party damages the ANC in two important ways. It draws disaffected young black South Africans, who are experiencing unemployment rates of about 60%, out of the ANC. And it captures ideological terrain that the ANC was previously able to control and finesse, namely, the question of the nationalisation of mines and land.

A strong and confident ANC has, since 1994, essentially been able to tell its electoral constituency that patience is required for transformation and that constituency has, with mutterings, accepted the ANC’s moral authority on the matter. However, that consensus is collapsing. Mr Malema’s ‘red berets’ are attacking the president at every opportunity and arguing that the ANC has sold out the birth-right of Africans and has been bought off by the opportunity to loot the state and by juicy empowerment deals. The message has a natural resonance among poor urban and unemployed youth – but up until Mr Malema’s expulsion, the ANC was able to articulate both sides of this debate within itself.

NUMSA split: The unravelling of the ruling alliance

Thirdly, it appears that the long-standing split within Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) over its relationship with the ANC has been forced to a head by the suspension of Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. A ‘left’ faction had, with a degree of discomfort, existed within Cosatu since the formation of the union federation in 1985. This faction has its roots in non-ANC liberation traditions and was concentrated mostly in Cosatu manufacturing unions, especially Numsa. The moves to get rid of Mr Vavi and close down Numsa’s criticism of the president and of ANC economic policy probably emanate from the hegemonic faction within the ANC itself, in other words, Jacob Zuma and his closest allies. Not unsurprisingly, Numsa has now formally called on Cosatu to leave the alliance with the ANC, has said it will not be supporting the ANC in the election in 2014 and has called for the immediate resignation of President Zuma.

Over time, this will impact ANC electoral support, though not necessarily profoundly in 2014. How Numsa members and their dependants vote in next year’s election was probably a ‘done deal’ prior to Numsa’s defection decision at its special congress in late December 2013. Numsa may link up with ‘left’ or ‘workers’ parties (and may actually form a ‘socialist party’ that could challenge the ANC for support in the ANC’s key black working-class constituency), but this will likely impact more profoundly on electoral outcomes in the 2019 election.

ANC swelling in rural conservative areas and shrinking amongst urban sophisticates

Fourthly, the patronage and diversion of state resources as depicted by the Nkandla saga, combined with the vigorous pursuit of the rural vote in Kwazulu-Natal, has meant that the ANC is gradually appealing less to urban Africans (although this is by no means a majority trend) and more to rural and traditional poor black South Africans. This appears to mean that parties like the Democratic Alliance, AgangSA and the EFF are picking up a degree of unexpected traction in such constituencies.

Labour environment

After a catastrophic 2012 as far as the labour environment was concerned – especially the repeated waves of illegal and violent strikes in the platinum sector – 2013 saw stabilisation, albeit at still unacceptably high levels of unrest and strike activity.

In the platinum sector, the Amcu is ‘bedding down’, but likely to continue contesting with the Num in the gold sector. The next public-sector wage round is scheduled for 2015, so we have a breather before that storm hits (and we expected it to be a big storm when it does).

The formalisation of the Numsa split from the alliance probably means that this union will begin to actively contest with the Cosatu unions and in several other sectors of the economy. We are looking for the formation of new and smaller unions in sectors where the incumbent unions have grown too cumbersome or complacent to deal with the demands of specialist groups of workers. Unionism is a growth industry in South Africa, with annuity income for those who set them up. As Cosatu shudders, there are many opportunities emerging.

Labour unrest, poor labour productivity and inflexible labour markets (price, size, skills) are among the biggest negative domestic drivers of economic growth and we expect the figures to show a slight improvement in 2013 over 2012 and a significant deterioration in 2014 and 2015 – which may have significant negative implications along the lines of the BMW ‘disinvestment’ decision.

National Development Plan: The political rise of the Treasury and fall of Cosatu

The ruling party and the ruling alliance’s approach to the National Development Plan (NDP) has appeared highly conflicted since the adoption of the plan at the 2012 Mangaung national conference of the ANC.

While our view is that the NDP is little more than a shopping list (and not the miracle cure some ratings and multilateral agencies hope it is) in the areas of large infrastructure roll-out and a disciplining/training/focusing of the public service, we may be in for upside surprises. The important political leaders to watch here are ministers Lindiwe Sisulu (public service and administration) and Malusi Gigaba (state-owned enterprises).

In several different ways, the Zuma leadership of the ANC has, over the last few months, appeared to back with a degree of fortitude previously orphaned policy thrusts from the NDP that are generally ‘financial-market positive’.

The first of these is the foregrounding of the NDP itself – both at Mangaung, but also in the medium-term budget statement in October 2013. Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan stated that that this budget statement and all future budget statements would be ‘the accounts’ of the National Development Plan, putting the plan at the centre of government policy.

The trade-union movement – especially the now defecting faction rooted in Numsa, but actually common to the whole federation – was outraged by this, as it sees the NDP as a capitulation by the ANC to (variously) ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘business interests’.

In conjunction with this foregrounding of the NDP, Jacob Zuma has recently signed into law two major policy thrusts that are bitterly opposed by the ANC’s labour ally.

The first of these is the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act, which allows for the implementation of ‘e-tolling’ on Gauteng highways and has been bitterly opposed by COSATU and other community groups in that province. Bond-market investors and ratings agencies have repeatedly said it is crucial that the ANC implement ‘e-tolling’ if the government is to maintain credibility on the global capital markets. It is significant that the Zuma administration has grasped this nettle, despite facing (by all accounts) a significant electoral challenge in Gauteng in 2014.

The second surprising nettle-grasping activity has been the promulgation of the employment tax incentive bill in the face of united Coatu fury. This is the ‘youth wage subsidy’ of yore, and the ANC under Jacob Zuma has obviously decided to accept thunderous criticism from its ally in the hope that longer-term employment growth benefits will weigh in its favour at the polls, in both 2014 and 2019.

Together, these initiatives are surprising positives and have probably come about because the Treasury has managed to persuade Mr Zuma and his cabinet that failure to take a stand on these various measures could lead to downgrades by the ratings agencies.

Policy and regulatory risks predominate

Thus, our view is that the Presidency, bereft of any real policy direction itself (because it is busy purely with rent seeking and hanging onto power) has been persuaded by Pravin Gordhan that the country is in trouble, that the deficit is looking genuinely threatening, that downgrades are a real possibility and that if this goes south, President Zuma might go with it. The National Treasury briefly has the reins, and this gives us a moment of respite.

However, hostile mining regulations, a fiddly and interventionist Department of Trade and Industry, an overly ambitious Department of Economic Development, a hostile Department of Labour, liquor legislation, more and tighter empowerment legislation and deepening regulations on all fronts, but especially in the credit markets, mean that, on the whole, government in 2014 will be an unreliable financial-market ally.

State finances: The deeper risks are fiscal

The country’s increasing dependence for stability on social grants and other forms of social spending is a real and deepening political risk. While the social grant system has lifted millions of South Africans out of poverty and the public sector has employed hundreds of thousands of others, it has also created a culture of dependency and paternalism and is an unsustainable expense that the government will at some stage be forced to reduce. This is definitely going to be accompanied by severe social turmoil, although as mentioned previously, the real ‘fiscal cliff’ is still some way ahead of the forecast period dealt with in this report.

Election 2014

The election results will be important, but in ways that are difficult to predict.

If the ANC’s share of the national vote plummets to the low 50% range, will this force the party into a process of renewal, or will it be panicked into populist measures? It probably depends on which parties take up the slack.

If the ANC gets 65% of the vote, will it be ‘Nkandla business’ as usual – an unhealthy rural populism à la the Traditional Courts Bill, combined with activities like the significant public resources (ZAR208m) spent on building the president’s Nkandla compound and accusations of corruption?
If Mr Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters get 10% of the vote, will that mean ANC policymaking is paralysed until 2019 as the party attempts to appease the angry and disenfranchised youth? Will it mean legislation relating to mining and land ownership swerves into uncertain and dangerous territory?

If the Democratic Alliance wins 27% of the national vote (which we think unlikely) and if it is able to form a provincial government in alliance with other parties in Gauteng (which we also think unlikely), how might that cause the ANC to behave? Better? To continue to allow the Treasury to set the tone of probity and effectiveness, concentrate on fixing education and focus on economic growth as the only guarantor of electoral success in 2019? Will this kind of threat cause the ruling party to attempt to make opposition strongholds ungovernable? We suspect different impulses are already at war within the ANC and investors should watch how that battle plays out.

Below, purely as a way of presenting our latest ‘guesstimates’, are our ‘most likely’ electoral outcomes for 2014 (these may change as campaigning performance changes before the election and as various crises emerge, eg, the booing of Jacob Zuma at the FNB Stadium commemoration for Nelson Mandela in December 2013).

votingresultsinpreview

BRICs and the uncertain rise of the SACP

A relatively new and difficult-to-unpick issue is the growing confidence the South African Communist Party (SACP) has in shaping the national agenda. The inappropriate focus on BRICS speakers at the FNB Mandela memorial (over Africans and European Union speakers, with Obama the inevitable exception) is probably evidence of the Communists having very significant influence.

We think this could have fed through into the announced Zuma/Putin ZAR 100bn nuclear deal.

This is a matter of growing tension within the ANC, with a previously dominant (under Mandela and Mbeki) group of ‘progressive Africanists’ having lost power to the Communists, who are now in an alliance with a patronage-seeking, provincial elite with strong links to state-security apparatuses and rent-seeking business interests (‘the Nkandla crew’.)

This struggle could play into succession issues and might be a driver of attempts to impeach Jacob Zuma (a strategy unlikely to succeed, in our view) over the next few years.

Succession and a ‘rescue mission’ in the ANC?

While this matter probably lies beyond the 2014 scope of this report, within the ANC, the possibility of a rescue mission is taking shape (driven, in part, by growing commentary about how many public resources are ending up on and around Jacob Zuma’s person and his tight control of security agencies). A group now on the outskirts of the party, and in very general terms representing the ‘old guard’, appears set to begin working on securing a succession process that reverses the decline (moral and in popularity) over which Jacob Zuma appears to be presiding.

This move has not yet taken shape, nor is it properly manifest, but in our view the important people to watch are previous President Thabo Mbeki, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.

Forgive the dearth of postings here … I was brought low by some late winter dreaded lurgy and as a result my life came to grinding halt for almost two weeks.

The big story (which I will deal with later today or tomorrow)  is the astonishingly decisively manner in which the ANC and its government is blocking Cosatu on a whole range of policy issues … immediately prior to an election.

Later today I will  attempt to assess whether the medium-term budget policy statement holds the same line, particularly with regard to the public sector wage bill. If it does then I am going to have to start reassessing whether Jacob this-isn’t-some-African-shithole Zuma is quite as soft-in-the-middle on policy as I have previously asserted. The implications of the putatively shifting position are huge and, I suspect, driven by a complex and contradictory set of factors.

Meanwhile here is an excerpt from my weekly news commentary describing the rising decibels and pitch of the moan coming from business and its representatives (and from financial markets in general) around policy, especially policy related to the labour market. The ascending pitch and loudness of the whine are undoubtedly two of the factors pushing Zuma’s showdown with Cosatu – but I think it would be premature to think of the president’s actions as primarily about bowing down to business and the diktats of global capital markets.

South Africa deteriorating investment destination

Complaints about South Africa’s hostile policy environment are getting louder.

Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese added his voice to a chorus complaining about a hostile investment environment in South Africa. In other African countries “infrastructure is improving, border crossings are becoming easier, more property development is taking place and, in some cases, they are offering more opportunities.” But in South Africa government is “certainly not cooperative” and “one is left with the impression that government sees business as the opposition, not as a partner … you can’t have German rules because we can’t administer them,”

The wizened and iconoclastic Christo Wiese held up Angola, Nigeria and, especially, Rwanda as improving business destinations. South Africa’s labour regime, according to Wiese, is becoming one of the greatest inducements to invest in other African countries. (Wiese was quoted in an interesting interview with Chris Barron in the Sunday Times 22/10/2013 – here’s a link to the republished article in Business Day … Barron is always interesting and not to be missed in your weekly news read.)

Wiese’s comments came soon after Moody’s Investor Services said in a credit opinion on 12 October that South Africa’s elevated strike activity continues to affect the investment climate. “BMW’s announcement that South Africa has been removed for consideration for the new car is tangible evidence of the negative impact that the increase in work days lost to strikes in the past two years is likely to pose for the medium-term outlook of the economy … Such decisions are likely to be repeated by other companies when such significant losses are incurred -” Bloomberg and Moody’s Credit Opinion 12/10/2013.

In the same week Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said (after the company was again battered by strikes) that it “is not possible that we can continue with these kinds of strikes, which are having an effect not only on the mining sector but all sectors of the economy. It’s hurting the economy … It is impacting jobs” – Business Day 16/10/2013.

From extensive plans to cut 230,000ozs of achievable platinum as well as 14 000 jobs announced in January this year, Amplats appears to have been steadily successfully bullied back by unions, government and the ANC from doing what it initially intended.

Read against South Africa’s scores in the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 2014 (click here for a full copy) some of this anxiety seems justified. While South Africa is ranked 53rd this year out of 148 countries, the quality of the educational system is very poor at 146th, as was labour market efficiency at 116th – and ‘hiring and firing practices’ and ‘wage flexibility’ at 147th and 144th respectively. The ability of the employer to respond quickly to changing production needs for skills and size of workforce is called ‘labour market flexibility’- and aggregating our performance in these categories suggests a serious deficit compared with our peers.

Okay, so that sets the background for a follow-on post (today or tomorrow) dealing with the now unavoidable conclusion that Zuma’s government appears to be risking the wrath of its left-wing allies with regard to a range of policy measures. The important question to answer is ‘why’ is the ANC drawing the line? And why now?

 

Herewith an extract from my recent political news update.

Strikes – turbulence as the cycle hits the secular trend

Num (the National Union of Mineworkers) has served notice on the Chamber of Mines (COM) of its intention to strike across the gold sector, beginning with the Tuesday night shift this week. Num represents 72,000 of the country’s 120,000 goldmine workers. The Chamber made a final offer of a 6-6.5% wage increase, while Num is holding out for 60%. Amcu, which is also represented in the gold sector (now 19% of workforce according to the COM, but possibly as high as 30%,) wants a 150% increase but has not announced that it intends to strike, and nor have Solidarity and Uasa.

There are ongoing strikes by workers in auto manufacturing, construction and aviation services and threatened strikes among textile workers and petrol station employees – but these strikes are, at this stage, part of the normal cycle.

So what?

I mentioned previously:

“South Africa has a predictable strike season, the timing of which coincides with the expiration of bargaining chamber agreements in different sectors of the economy. Every year it appears that a wave of strikes is enveloping the country, but at some time during the gloom, journalists twig to the fact that this happens every year – much of the flurry in normal and predictable” – April 29 2013.

Several such ‘predictable’ strikes are happening or about to happen as I write this.

However, the gold sector breakdown is outside of the normal cycle both in how far the negotiating parties are away from each (6-6.5% versus 60-150%) and in the complex game being played between Num and Amcu. Amcu has quietly welcomed the impending strike as a chance to prove that, in fact, Num does not represent the majority of workers at key mines. On Friday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said Num’s strike would “qualify” its official representivity of more than 60%. He urged that everyone should “watch this space”.

Business Report in the Sunday Independent argues that South Africa’s four biggest gold producers are hoarding cash and lining up access to more in preparing for an industry wide strike. “If we are, let’s say, bullied into a situation that we don’t like, we can ride out the storm for a very long period of time,” said Sibanye chief executive Neal Froneman in the Bloomberg sourced story.

The essence of the gamesmanship between Num and Amcu is Num must demand and win an increase via strike action that is satisfactory to its membership, and Amcu must try and undermine the strike action and argue that, anyway, the ‘demand’ in the Num led strike is inadequate. On mines where Amcu dominates (in the Carletonville region at AngloGold, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold) Amcu must attempt to force mines out of the central bargaining process by ensuring that no central agreement can achieve a sustainable settlement at the local mine or company level.

Lock-out

An interesting discussion in today’s Business Day by the always excellent Carol Paton suggests that employers with large Amcu membership, specifically at Amcu strongholds at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng mine; Harmony’s Kusasalethu and Sibanye’s Driefonteing favour a lock-out because they believe Amcu will sit out the Num strike and then strike themselves once that is settled. Paton’s story suggests that by locking workers out employers force all workers into one camp. “By declaring a lockout, employers would get around this problem, through forcing Amcu into the dispute now and exhausting workers’ resources to endure a strike.”

Alliance Summit

The African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African National Civics Organisation met in a long postponed summit over the weekend to discuss and agree upon economic policy. The premise of the discussion was “unless we make significant inroads in addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, the democratic constitutional gains of the first phase of our transition will themselves be eroded” – from the Summit Declaration.

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that:

“… stagnation continues to characterise the developed economies, there has now been a significant slowing of growth in key developing economies, including China, India and Brazil. The commodity super-cycle of the recent past is now over. This has had an impact on economies dependent upon the export of industrial minerals and coal. The attempts to refloat growth in the US with a loose money policy have created further turbulence in many developing economies like SA.”

The Summit went to some lengths to defend against the accusation that poor economic performance was in any way related failures of “the South African government, or the labour movement”. Instead, the summit declaration lists achievements in infrastructure build, land reform and youth and labour market reform.

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

… bold forms of state intervention, including through:

  • Financial regulation and control;

  • Progressive and redistributive taxation

  • Wage and income policies, and progressive competition policies that promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.

  • A well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy

  • Increased state ownership and control in strategic sectors, where deemed appropriate on the balance of evidence, and the more effective use of state-owned enterprises.

So what?

The Alliance Summit used all the right language to keep the different elements of the alliance together but said nothing that might reassure spooked investors.

The opposite is probably true. Just look at the words: “progressive and redistributive taxation”, “well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy”, “increased state ownership” and “wage and income policies … that … promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.”

This is not the language that Kgalema Motlanthe used as he attempted to pacify investors at the presidential mining lekgotla in Johannesburg last week, but it is precisely the atmosphere of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s words at the Africa Down Under mining conference Perth, Western Australia last week when she said investors had to “moderate” the rates of return they expected to earn on their investments so as to allow for the social expenditures that need to be made (Business Day August 28).

The ANC and government are increasingly schizophrenic in their attempts to keep everyone (constituents, allies and investors) happy. In trying to keep everyone happy the ANC and the government seem more likely to achieve generalised dissatisfaction.

Criminal justice system appropriately named

The lead stories in the Weeklies were indicative of a growing anxiety about the criminal justice system. The Sunday Times led with “Magistrates: drunks, thieves and killers” and the other papers all discussed National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega’s embarrassment after she announced the appointment of a Major-General Mondli Zuma and then quickly reversed that when she was told that Zuma (whose relationship to the President is unknown to me) was being tried for driving under the influence of alcohol, failing to comply with a traffic officer’s instructions to stop at a roadblock, escaping lawful custody, defeating the ends of justice and refusing to have a blood alcohol sample taken.

So what

This might look like a circus but there is a darker element to the state of the criminal justice system than is not immediately obvious in these comical stories. In the Sunday Independent, journalist Nathi Oliphant writes about the security and justice sector: “President Jacob Zuma has unflinchingly stuck to his guns in promoting ‘his own’ into key positions”.

The security apparatuses and the criminal justice system more generally has been profoundly weakened by political interference and the dismaying newspaper headlines about criminality amongst magistrates and senior police generals is just the visible tip of the problem of that, in part, originates in political fiddling in the security and justice clusters and institutions.

Editor flees from Gupta TV

“Visibly terrified and hiding in a Johannesburg hotel room, the former consulting editor at ANN7 has made explosive claims about visits by channel bosses to President Jacob Zuma, where Zuma made editorial recommendations and was ‘given assurances by the Guptas this channel was going to be pro-ANC’” – reads the lead story in City Press.

So what

Nothing, really. ANN7, or GuptaTV as it has been named in much of the South African media, continues to provide comic relief and excruciating embarrassment, in about equal measures (although I know a few professionals doing an honest day’s work there and I feel faintly protective of them). Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is probably no laughing matter, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the criminal justice system to test whether Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is in any way similar to his relationship with the Shaik brothers.

Zwelinzima Vavi’s suspension from Cosatu and the ANC/SACP/Num decision not to attend the Marikana commemoration, both on Friday last week, are, to my mind, indicative of a significant retreat of ANC hegemony.

Hegemony’,  as I imbibed the concept from probably slightly fevered readings of Antonio Gramsci’s sublime Prison Notebooks while I was a student activist (and from endless discussions in those semi-mythological ‘smoke filled rooms’) has proved, for me personally, a useful and adaptable tool for conceiving of the ebb and flow of political power.

The concept comes from the Greek word ἡγεμονία (look at me … I can cut-and-paste from Wikipedia) which means both ‘rule’ and ‘leadership’ but especially implied and indirect power or rule.

Hegemony (in my own lexicon) is used to describe the myriad ways in which the dominant group extends its direct power (let’s say, for argument’s sake, that direct power is that exercised through party discipline, or through the state, especially apparatuses of implicit or actual coercion). The extension of the reach of the dominant group beyond the immediate terrain that it obviously controls and into the middle ground or the rest of society (usually conceived of as civil society) is what I think of as hegemony. It is direct power extended as influence and leadership and as a result of occupying the high ground and by in some way representing the national as opposed to sectional interests and, ultimately, effective through persuasion rather than control - forgive all the awkward italicising.

The ANC that won to power in South Africa during the end of the 80’s and early 90’s was, to my mind, the exemplary example of the exercise of hegemony. The only power available to the ANC during this period was so called  ‘soft power that derived from its occupation of the moral high-ground and came about as a result of its (the ANC’s) careful building of broad fronts and tighter, more disciplined formations, like the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance itself.

This is the context in which I assess both Vavi’s suspension from Cosatu and the fact that the Marikana commemoration appears to have been a ‘no-go area’ for the Ruling Alliance. Obviously both news items can be understood as important for other reasons, but this is the prism through which I have chosen to view them.

(Note: ‘retreating power or hegemony” is not the same as having  ‘lost power or hegemony’. I am not saying in raising the points below that the ANC has lost its ability to ‘influence’ and ‘lead’ … rather I am saying that there are signs that it is significantly weakened in this regard. Not explored in this article is the consequences – which I believe are extremely serious and threatening – of any such potential loss of ANC hegemony. I have previously discussed this in an article entitled Beware the thing that might pick up power lying in the street and I have made similar points in Zuma’s brittle grip tightens.)

Cosatu suspends Vavi – and the Ruling Alliance shudders

Zwelinzima Vavi, suspended after a special meeting of Cosatu’s central executive committee on Wednesday last week, has indicated that he will challenge the decision in court.  During his press conference on Friday announcing this, Vavi released a document containing what purports to be a series of intelligence reports claiming that he (Vavi) is part of a US ‘soft-power’ plot to undermine Cosatu and the ANC.

Vavi’s strategy, and that of his supporters, appears to be to mobilise ordinary workers, notably in the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) as well as in those branches, regions and local areas of otherwise anti-Vavi unions where Vavi remains popular with the rank and file – including, for example, the Kokstad region of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).  The ‘fight back’ strategy will culminate in a special Numsa congress to be held in December.

So what?

Vavi’s refusal to accept his suspension and his publically announcing that he will contest in court the Cosatu CEC decision suspending him is more serious than it first appears – and may well lead to his expulsion. (To get a sense of why this may be the case, here is what Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general, said of Vavi’s decision to challenge his suspension: “This is unprecedented. It is the worst case of organisational ill-discipline. If the ANC takes me through a disciplinary process, the worst thing I can ever do is to go out and attack the ANC. That is unheard of” – Sunday Times.)

The so-called ‘intelligence document’ that Vavi released on Friday (available as a pdf at the Mail and Guardian website here) appears to be a clumsy attempt to discredit Vavi by linking him (and various other Zuma opponents) to comical ‘imperialist plots’ to spread coups and chaos in Africa. The contents of the document are not worthy of consideration. However, if it is true, as Vavi claims, that his opponents in Cosatu and the ANC distributed the document, it is legitimate to consider the possibility that it was produced in a ‘dirty tricks’ department somewhere within the state security apparatus and/or somewhere close to the leadership of the ruling party.

The outstanding question is whether Vavi’s suspension or expulsion could lead to a defection of Numsa and other unions or parts of unions from Cosatu. The labour environment could be catastrophically impacted upon by this kind of collapse of Cosatu – especially if Numsa, already the largest, best organised and, perhaps, most militant Cosatu union, decides to contest with other Cosatu unions (especially Num) for membership.

The difficulty in making an assessment of whether Numsa could split from Cosatu is rooted in the fact that there is no template for the consequences of the factional driven axing of such a senior, respected and popular alliance leader such as is Vavi.

Up until now it was always a good bet that while ‘left’ and other ‘militant’ factions of the Alliance might fight against various positions and policies with which they disagree, the benefits of being within the Alliance always outweighed the loss of access to the policy-making/leadership-election processes that would go along with being outside the Alliance.  However, Vavi represents, more than any other single individual, the ‘left’ critique of ANC/government corruption (particularly allegations around Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence) and of government economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) and it is distinctly possible that ‘left’ factions of Cosatu could conclude that the space for them to operate within the alliance would be closed down if Vavi is forced out.

Marikana – ANC and Num refuse to participate in commemorations

The African National Congress, the SACP and the National Union of Mineworkers boycotted the first anniversary commemoration of the Marikana killings, saying the event was “hijacked” (Num), that Amcu was  “a vigilante grouping” (SACP, quoted in Business Day 16.08.13) and that the “commemoration is organised by an illegitimate team called ‘Marikana support group’” (ANC, quoted in Business Day 16.08.13).

Thousands gathered on Friday at the hillside in Marikana where 34 mineworkers were shot a year earlier. During the commemoration, Lonmin CEO Ben Magara “apologised for last year’s deaths, the first and only company or government official to do so” – Business Day 19.08.13.  Ben Magara said at the commemoration: “I heard about your request to employ a relative of each of the deceased. I heard about the request for R12,500. I am here today to say: let us sit down and talk”. Joseph Mathunjwa, president of Amcu said this apology “was overwhelming” … he is the only person who came and gave an apology and he was not (at the time of the massacre) even part of the management … not even government has done that …his gestures show that he is a man who is willing to engage” – Business Day 19.08.13.

During the commemoration Dali Mpofu, legal representative of injured and arrested miners at the Farlam Commission, acted as the master of ceremonies, Julius Malema was among the speakers and Agang SA leader, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, “deposed” PAC leader Letlapa Mphahlele, NFP leader Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota, African People’s Convention leader Themba Godi, EFF leaders Kenny Kunene and Floyd Shivambu and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa also attended (City Press).

So what?

The complete retreat of the ANC and its allies (the SACP and Cosatu) in Marikana represents a highly significant loss of political terrain. The commemoration gathering was widely accepted and legitimate, Lonmin was represented as was a broad cross-section of the Nkaneng community as well as church, political and worker organisations. The fact that this was a ‘no-go area’ for the ANC and its allies is, in my opinion, the most significant evidence of loss of ANC hegemony since the 1994 election. The political loss for the ANC is reproduced throughout the platinum sector and tracks the relative gain of Amcu and the losses of Num. The opposition political parties are hovering around the platinum sector hoping to pick up the votes the ANC loses … but it is not yet evident which parties, if any, will benefit from the ANC’s apparent loss of support and legitimacy amongst platinum mineworkers. However, the existence of ‘no-go areas’ in national election campaigns is a recipe for violence.

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.

Herewith is an extract from my weekly news summary/analysis of what I thought was important in the main weeklies.

Freedom Day, April 27 – nineteen years on from the first democratic election … a good story by-and-large

City Press has a useful op-ed page by the always excellent Ferial Haffajee (who is also the editor) based on the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) handbook 2012. Interestingly, while SAIRR has become an ever stronger critic of the ANC, CEO Frans Cronje acknowledges that “the last 20 years have seen a revolutionary improvement for all South Africans” – a fact that is apparent from the graphic representations (each one manually scanned from the City Press … so apologies for the quality) below.

Graph above – number of people living on less than $2 a day

Graph above – number of people living on less than $2 a day

Graph above – the (not so gradual) roll-back of Bantu Education – the number of Blacks passing matric grows more in response to changing economic requirement of the labour force.

Graph above – the (not so gradual) roll-back of Bantu Education – the number of Blacks passing matric grows more in response to changing economic requirement of the labour force.

Graph above – enrolment in tertiary education – significant changes but a long way to go. Notice the growth in African share.

Graph above – enrolment in tertiary education – significant changes but a long way to go. Notice the growth in African share.

Graph above shows wealth distribution patterns – everyone getting wealthier, although demographics have a strong (even reinforced) apartheid structure

Graph above – the middle class has grown (as far as I can make out from the poorly phrased explanation, this is LSMs 1-10 and how they have fared (grown or shrunk) since 1994 – indicating growth of middle class: bars six and seven.

Graph above – the middle class has grown (as far as I can make out from the explanation, this is LSMs 1-10 and how they have fared (grown or shrunk) since 1994 – indicating growth of middle class: bars six and seven.

Graph above: the demographics of wealth ownership improve as everyone gets richer – whites still streets ahead in the stakes and foreign ownership is an interesting outlier.

Graph above: the demographics of wealth ownership improve as everyone gets richer – whites still streets ahead in the stakes and foreign ownership is an interesting outlier.

So what

Worries about an Arab spring, and social unrest are often based on the assumption of intractable negative social trends. Haffajee, a strong social and political critic of government herself, says: “Over the years of covering South Africa’s freedom, I’ve come to learn this about us: We don’t count our lucky stars often enough, nor do we give ourselves credit for the things we do well. Why this is, I am not sure. But the answer probably lies inherent in the way power was peacefully transferred, but not decisively won.” These graphs run counter to popular wisdom in a number of ways, perhaps the most important one to point out for domestic consumption is that the idea that whites are the new oppressed, and the losers in the last 19 years (as argued in powerful sections of the media and Solidarity trade union, for example) is obviously, even elaborately, wrong.

Businesses unanimous in condemning draft Licensing of Business Bill

A proposed bill will force small businesses and traders to register with, and be licenced by, local councils and municipalities (“every greengrocer, car dealer, pharmacy, and livestock seller … it includes every service provider, from lawyers to hospitals and hotels, car parks, airports, freight carriers and advertising agencies” – Free Market Foundation quoted in Business Report, the Sunday Independent’s business section). The report links the bill to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor that shows SA entrepreneurship levels to be the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.

So what?

The entrepreneurship survey is deeply disturbing – although not wholly surprising and we agree with Business Unity South Africa when it says (as quoted in the same story) that the bill “will … retard the growth and development of SMEs and further harm a sector which is presently struggling with a high business failure rate.” However, we understand the real target of the Department of Trade and Industry which is floating the legislation is to restrict illegal hawking, particularly of the flood of cheap, illegally imported manufactured goods. Legislation often has unintended consequences, which is the reasons there is extensive public consultation before laws are placed on the statue books. The DTI’s instincts are to fiddle in the economy, but its intention here is undoubtedly correct, it just needs to find the best mechanism.

Wage bargaining and the strikes season is upon us

The City Press business section says “major wage talks scheduled for the mining, motor manufacturing and chemical industries haven’t even begun properly.”

“A full blown teachers’ strike is now on the cards after teachers’ union Sadtu last week presented President Jacob Zuma with a 21-page mix of labour and political demands” – City Press (those demands include the removal of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her director-general Bobby Soobrayan.

The Motor Industry Bargaining Council (MIBC), where Numsa dominates sets wages for 160 000 workers in the sector and this year will open with a demand for a 20% across-the-board increase, an industry wide minimum of R6000.00 a month and a ban on labour brokers – later this week.

The Chemical Industry also starts next week (sectors involved are “fast moving consumer goods, glass, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals” – City Press.)

The most widely anticipated talks are those coming up in the Chamber of Mines for the gold mining industry (and concurrently in the coal sector) – the first since illegal strikes rearranged the labour landscape and ushered in a plethora of worker committees refusing to work through unions. “The handsome increases some of the mining strikes won last year, by bypassing the formal system, will exercise the minds of everyone at the table …” City Press.

The article also says “the Chamber of Mines is meeting with Amcu again this week to try and arrange its place in the forum … where Amcu will have to share Num’s mandate for the populous lower bands.”

“The plan for a new platinum forum echoing the gold and coal forums at the chamber has not made any progress. This while mining companies will see their standing wage agreements expire this year” – City Press.

So what?

South Africa has a predictable strike season, the timing of which coincides with the expiration of bargaining chamber agreements in different sectors of the economy. Every year it appears that a wave of strikes is enveloping the country, but at some time during the gloom, journalists twig to the fact that this happens every year – much of the flurry in normal and predictable. Strike action during these times can appear to cascade through the economy and we need to be clear what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘abnormal’.  The platinum and agriculture strikes last year were abnormal and have, to an important degree, contributed to destabilising the system – by creating unrealistic base expectations and by encouraging workers to bargain outside of the unions and structures of the central bargaining system. This does lay the grounds for serious uncertainty this year. Adding to the tension is the apparent attempt of Zuma and his strategist and allies in Cosatu to get rid of popular Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. As we discuss below, this could contribute to serious disturbance in industrial relations this year – disturbances that are distinctly not part of the normal cycle.

The growing tension in the ruling alliance is putting Cosatu under intense strain

The Sunday Times says it has seen and analysed Cosatu’s schedule of rallies and official speakers for May 1 and argues: “May Day celebrations will once again expose the deep division in Cosatu” – a significant part of the tension concerns Num leaders refusing to address rallies in the Eastern Cape, an important labour sending area for platinum mines and likely strongholds of Amcu where Jacob Zuma’s Num allies are might to be embarrassed, heckled or driven from the stage.

City Press attempted to tote up the “for and against Vavi” unions indicating membership numbers – using figures drawn from the Cosatu 2012 national conference official ‘organisation report’- and it’s own insights into which groups of union leaders are Zuma allies/Vavi critics. It is not an extremely useful exercise because each union has for-and-against sections, with only Numsa and Num being large and significant unions with more clearly defined “for and against” positions. However the forces against Vavi appear to have the numbers if they need them, although it is not clear that this translates directly into votes in the forum that will make the decision.

Pro-Vavi

Membership Numbers

Anti-Vavi

Membership Numbers

Unclear

Membership Numbers

Numsa

291025

Ceppwawu

80658

CWU

18666

Fawu

126930

Num

310382

Sama

7758

Denosa

74

Nehawu

260738

Pawusa

17146

Popcru

149339

Sadnu

8655

Satawu

159626

Safpu

593

Sadtu

251276

Sasawu

67402

Sasbo

7074

Sactwu

85025

Total members

418029

 

820979

 

212319

So what?

This morning an opinion column written by this analyst exploring attempts by the Zuma allies to get rid of Zwelinzima Vavi will be published in the online newspaper The Daily Maverick. Here is an extract that contains the most salient “so what?” for financial markets:

 “Shafting Vavi could conceivably split Cosatu – and even lead to the formation of a new left or worker-based political party. Take Numsa, all the other trade unions and bits of trade unions that support Vavi and add the individuals and organisations Vavi has been accused of flirting with (in the National Anti-Corruption Forum and earlier in the Civil Society Conference – October 27 2010) and dig out all those leftists long ago alienated from the ANC (think the brilliant and creative Zackie Achmat and those connected to him); go wild and add Amcu and some not yet indiscernible political formation emerging around Amcu or even around Agang … and you have the grounds for a real and serious challenge to the ANC. At the very least shafting of Vavi might not equal clearing Cosatu of his influence. It might equal clearing the ruling alliance of Cosatu … leaving Zuma Incorporated clinging to a fading Num and a few cronies.… it is a risky game. One of the by-products could be another catastrophic year on the industrial relations front. If Cosatu splits, it won’t be a neat division between different unions … the fault lines will run through individual unions and the disturbances generated by the Amcu/Num contest could become a model for the whole economy.”

The SACP joins criticism of the National Planning Commission – final nails in Trevor Manuel’s coffin

To add to the general factional confusion in the Ruling Alliance, close Zuma allies, the SACP has published a discussion paper that has a “sharp, pointed and nuanced interrogation” of the NPC (which produced the much vaunted, in financial markets and by business, National Development Plan).  “We cannot have a free-floating NPC, with an apparent presidential endorsement and using the budget of the presidency” says the SACP discussion document.

So what?

Actually, to my surprise, I agree with the main SACP criticism: the plan “does not have a strong organic link into government and its diverse planning apparatuses and processes.” Without such links, the NDP was always going to be a fig-leaf covering up the paucity of any actually strategy for economic development in the Zuma administration. The SACP can’t hide the fact that what it mostly dislikes about the NPC or the NDP is business’ participation in the formulation of the ideas and that Cosatu is starting to come out ever more critical of the document. I expect the NDP to go the way of a myriad similar (although never quite as thoroughly and carefully wrought) such plans from South Africa’s recent past.

Bits and pieces

  • City Press spent a day in the DRC’s Eastern Region with the M23 guerrilla movement, meeting them in Bunagana on the Rwanda border. The UN is deploying a brigade as a result of UN resolution 2008, which accuses the M23 and other rebels of mass rape, murder sprees and of recruiting child soldiers. The M23 insisted to City Press that Khulubuse Zuma (a nephew of the president) won valuable oil concession on the shores of Lake Edward and in exchange Jacob Zuma has committed “elite troops and top-drawer fire power to the UN force to smash M23.” The M23 guerrilla movement is trying to play into South African politics by accusing Zuma – sounds like one group of wolves trying to accuse another to cover up their own predatory behaviour. I have seen no evidence to back the idea that the troops are being sent to protect the Zuma family’s interests.
  • The Dina Pule saga continues to become ever more deeply incomprehensible. City Press claims Dina Pule  has alleged that famous soccer club owner Jomo Sono is behind a smear campaign against her to attempt to blackmail her into awarding his (Sono’s) company a the multi-billion rand set-top-box decoder contract. Pule is due to appear before Parliaments ethics and member’s interests committee on Thursday or Friday and the sooner political clarity comes to the telecommunications sector, the better.
  • Regional leaders are expected to hold a summit soon to discuss Zimbabwe’s readiness to hold elections, amid warnings that time is running out to ensure the poll is free, fair and credible – Sunday Independent. Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s foreign policy adviser and a key member of his facilitation team in Zimbabwe confirmed that Zanu-PF had recently thrown up obstacles to ‘proper monitoring’ of the Zimbabwe negotiations. “But she said her team had persuaded Zanu-PF that as SADC was supervising negotiations, it had the right and obligation to attend whatever Jomic (Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee) meeting it chose to. Zanu-PF conceded the point” – Sunday Independent.
  • Senior managers at PetroSA have been accused in the Mail & Guardian of conspiring to loot billions from the national oil company. It is a big story, dense with details and looks extremely damaging to those who stand accused. I will be monitoring the implications.

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[1]” 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[2].
  • Support for and against the National Development Plan.

So what?

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”.

So what?

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[3] 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.

So what?

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.

[1] 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

[2] 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.)

[3] 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.

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.

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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