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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” that Zwelinzima Vavi, the popular Cosatu Secretary General, has engaged in corrupt activity and is disloyal to the ANC-led alliance, including by failing to adequately support Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung.
- A flood of accusations made through the Cosatu linked NGO Corruption Watch that many of the leaders of unions involved in attacking Vavi are themselves corrupt – Mail & Guardian in a story that works more by insinuation rather than actual content – see here for the story that was later denied by Corruption watch here).
- The proposal made by Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) for a special Cosatu congress to resolve this issue, opposed by the group named in the first bullet, but supported by Numsa, Samwu and several smaller unions.
- Support for and against the National Development Plan.
Business might be tempted to fold its arms and sit back and delight that the old ‘thorn in the side’ Cosatu is being riven by tension. However, it is worth recalling that some industrial relations consultants also delighted in the emergence of Amcu in the platinum sector as a counter to Num for similar reasons – and look how that played out. The serious political conflict in Cosatu could as easily result in higher levels of labour unrest, with higher levels of unpredictability, in a wide variety of industries than in a generally more compliant labour movement. Several multi-year wage agreements are coming up for review before the end of this year (including in the automobile, chemical, gold mining, coal mining, retail motor industry and tyre sectors – which historically have been trendsetters – Business Times). Add to this my uncertainty as to whether the tight three-year public sector wage agreement set last year will hold under strain caused by a combination of:
- the (welcome) reforming zeal of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu,
- government’s apparent attempt to roll back the power of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, and
- the generally difficult economic circumstances for union members,
- the successes of the wildcat strikes, particularly in the platinum sector last year, perhaps having established a new baseline for increase expectation throughout the economy
and it is not inconceivable that we could have another year of potentially devastating labour unrest.
If the government’s (and the ANC’s) intention was to have a showdown with organised labour over economic growth and stability that would be one thing. But I suspect that the evident intervention in Cosatu is based on the sectarian interests at the ruling faction of the alliance rather than in any real desire to pursue the national good. If that faction faction successfully expels Vavi they might precipitate a split in Cosatu and the long awaited formation of a new ‘left’ political formation … and just by the act of pushing, through what appears to be a dirty tricks campaign, for this outcome the ruling faction risks rapidly escalating labour unrest.
The DA and the ANC try on their best dresses (or maybe not) for Election 2014
The DA has launched a campaign attempting to burnish its anti-apartheid credentials, including publishing a pamphlet with a picture of Nelson Mandela embracing deceased party stalwart Helen Suzman under the caption: “We played our part in opposing apartheid”.
At the same time, the Mail & Guardian has published excerpts of what it calls ‘draft DA election material’ which explicitly compares the ANC to the National Party. The M&G’s quotes from the draft document include the arguments that under Zuma’s ANC there is a “rise of Zulu nationalism and racist rhetoric” and “as was the case with apartheid, the ANC is using the police to suppress criticism of its government”.
In the City Press and Sunday Independent, the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has separate opinion pieces that argue that the DA’s attempt to appropriate Nelson Mandela is “an abuse of the human and humble character of this icon”. He adds that the DA “remains a brazen advocate for white domination and privilege, and for elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.
The general election next year is likely to be messy and disruptive – sustaining the apparently endless flow of unsettling news coming out of South Africa. From this far out it appears possible that the ANC will be arguing that the electoral issues are essentially identical to what they were in 1994 (white domination and the legacy of apartheid) and that the DA will be arguing that that is just an excuse for delivery failure – it would be difficult to conjure up a more divisive and unhelpful framing of the issues 20 years after the first democratic election.
The unravelling of the Mandela legacy
The weeklies have a flood of stories that pick away at the fabric of the Mandela story. A reality TV show “Being Mandela” is reviewed in the Sunday Times under the heading “Opening up the canned Mandelas – comic kugels help deflate the myth”. The show “unveils the vacuous, pampered lives of two of Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini” – Sunday Times.
The Sunday Independent leads with a review of “struggle stalwart” Amina Cachalia’s new book “When Hope and History Rhyme” in which, among many other matters, she reveals aspects of her own alleged romantic relationship with Nelson Mandela post his marriage to Graça Machel.
All of this comes as a bitter fight among Mandela’s children (with, among others, Nelson Mandela nominees George Bizos and Tokyo Sexwale) for control of various trusts that Nelson Mandela set up on his children’s behalf comes to a head in the Johannesburg High Court – The Sunday Tribune.
There may be some inherent advantages to the exposing of myths and legends as … myths and legends – but there really appears to be no upside to this depressing deflation. None of these stories changes the reality of the 94 year old South African former president’s contribution to the South African democracy and state-craft in general, but the incessant exposure does add to the gathering gloom around the South African story.
Bits and pieces
- The Youth Employment Accord has finally been signed after three years of squabbling in the National Economic Development and Labour council (Nedlac). Not unexpectedly, it does not include a youth wage subsidy in the form of a tax-break for companies employing first time youth workers. Frankly, at first glance, the accord, as reported in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and City Press appears vague enough to leave some confusion as to how it might result in its proposed creation of 5 million jobs for youth by 2020. No real surprises there.
- The weeklies were full of scholarly – and not so scholarly – debate about the resignation of Judicial Services Council member Izak Smuts. The debate boils down to whether there is a tension between the quality of judicial appointments and the need to make the judiciary more demographically representative. This is an intrinsically South African debate that cuts across every sector of society and will likely be with us for many years to come – for better or for worse.
- ANC MP, Ben Turok, explains in the Sunday Times the terms of reference and limitation of the nine member “inquisitorial” panel appointed by parliament to investigate the “ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, potential or otherwise” of Communications Minister Dina Pule with regard to the various allegations that she has allowed her romantic partner to make significant capital out of her ministerial post. That parliament is investigating this matter can only be a good – albeit long overdue – thing.
 In order in which it appears in the quote, and supposedly constituting an anti-Vavi, pro-NDP, pro Zuma faction: the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress
 And this group, supposedly constituting the pro-Vavi, anti-NDP faction, anti Zuma faction: National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers Union (plus a host of smaller unions including the Food and Allied Workers union).
(Note for both footnotes 1 and 2 – it is undoubtedly more complicated than this, but we need to start somewhere to attempt to make sense of the chaos.)
 Wikipedia (accessed 22/04/2013) explains the use of this term in South African slang as follows: “Amongst South African Jews, the word “kugel” was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favour of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman.”
I was looking for a shorthand way of summarising what I thought were the main political risks that are in the minds of investors in South African financial markets.
Note that the emphasis here (in what appears below) is what I think is an appropriate prism for investors in financial markets, and specifically those with an horizon of a maximum of 5-7 years.
If I was looking at broader security issues, particularly with regard to the stability of the state and ruling party, I would have had a significantly different emphasis – and have aspects that are both more negative and more positive than that which appears below. Hopefully, at some time in the future, I will post here a more general threat or risk analysis that would be of more specific relevance to South Africans who hope to live and work here.
Finally, before I get on with it, I do not explore the potential for an upside suprise here … but there does appear to me to be a slight accumulation of good news, albeit against a dark background.
SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks
- Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions: Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years);
- Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event: Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium- to-long duration (five to seven years);
- Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space: Serious risk. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions
Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years)
What it’s about: Most obvious are new interventions in the mineral and exploration sectors (including new taxes, price setting, beneficiation requirements, export restrictions, uncertainty about licence conditions and significantly increased ministerial discretion via the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill), but there are comparable interventions across the economy, as indicated in the ANC’s Mangaung Resolution and in a range of proposed regulatory and legislative changes, including those relating to telecommunications, liquid fuels, the labour market, employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment (to name just a few).
My view: Since 1994, it has generally been the case that markets consistently overestimate the risk that the ANC and its government will take significantly populist policy measures. The best example of this was in July 2002, when exaggerated targets for black equity participation in the mining sector where leaked and R52b left the JSE resources sector in 72 hours – a buying opportunity of note. However, the traction Julius Malema was able to achieve with disaffected youth post-2009 and the implicit defection from the ANC and its allies in the platinum strikes last year have catapulted the ANC into something of a policy scrabble. While nationalisation is off the agenda, it has been replaced by a policy push that hopes to deploy private companies, through regulation and other forms of pressure, to achieve government (and party) targets of employment, revenue generation, service delivery to local communities and infrastructure build. Increases in the tax take look likely – it’s purely a question of ‘how much the market can bear’.
Government intervention, per se, is less the issue here but rather the confused, generalised and uncertain nature and intent of the interventions. If the interventions do not have the desired results (growth, employment and equality), the risk is that government does not reassess the wisdom of the intervention, but instead uses a heavier hand.
Financial markets: Policy uncertainty puts downward pressure on investment, employment and output in all sectors. In South Africa, these negative impacts will be felt most keenly by companies most exposed to government licencing and regulatory power, or most exposed to government’s political prioritisation. Resources, telecommunications and agriculture all fall into one, or both, of these categories.
Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event
Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium-to-long duration (five to seven years).
What it’s about: Significant and consistent (apparently linear) growth in service delivery protests, combined with growing levels of industrial unrest (in 2012, anyway) seem to imply that such unrest could continue to escalate until it reaches a point of ‘phase state change’ (as in thermodynamics, referring to changing states of matter – to/from solid, liquid and gas). Thus, the risk is of a sudden systemic shift from unstable to revolutionary/insurrectionary.
My view: Increasing protest and industrial unrest are normal – and fairly consistent – features of South African political life and have been since at least the mid-1970s. Even before 1994 there was no real expectation that unrest would lead naturally to insurrection. A rapid phase state change, like an Arab-spring type event, requires (perhaps indirectly) contesting political formations and ideologies as well as the widespread failure – or absence – of social institutions (parliaments, courts) that direct, mediate and give expression to grievances and/or conflicting group interests. South Africa is rich in such institutions and there is no evidence that large groups of dissenting voices have permanently failed to find expression in society’s normal processes and institutions – even when some of those processes include robust forms of public dispute. However, South Africa does have some comparable features to countries that have had ‘Tunisia-moments’ – including high and growing youth unemployment, high levels of visible inequality and serious government corruption – so we would keep an eye on the escalating ‘service delivery protest’ trends, as evidenced in graphs from Municipal IQ below.
Industrial relations unrest is slightly different from – and more negative than – the question of social unrest as a whole. Trade unions are strong and growing in South Africa, and contestation between them is vigorous, even violent – as we saw in the platinum sector in 2012. Trade unions are businesses with an enticing annuity income flow – and this will drive their contestation. The collective bargaining system in South Africa is functioning sub-optimally for a number of reasons – including inappropriately high levels at which automatic recognition kicks in – and the disarray in the system also drives unrest. This conjunction of subjective and objective conditions means I am less sanguine about industrial relations stability (than about stability per se) and expect this to remain a negative investment feature for the next several years. I am specifically negative on public sector industrial relations stability for 2013.
Thus, I do not think unrest and social discord will lead to any radical policy or political discontinuities, but will remain a constant drain on confidence. I also think this phenomenon will tempt government into keeping spending (on the public sector wage bill and on social grants) at above-inflation levels – helping to feed uncertainty and unpredictability in state finances, inflation, the currency and the bond markets.
Additionally, I think labour unrest will remain a seriously destabilising factor of production – including via disruption of services in public sector strikes.
Resources, agriculture and construction are most exposed through their reliance on large, aggregated and often low-skilled/low-pay labour forces. The financial services and retail are less exposed to (but not immune to) the negative effects of industrial action.
Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space
Serious risk. Medium-likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
What it’s about: The ruling party is facing something of its own ‘fiscal cliff’. The ANC feels itself in danger of losing some support because of failure to deliver employment growth or adequate reductions in poverty and inequality. Foreign investors agree this is a risk, but will not necessarily agree to fund the gap. This tension is among the reasons that all three major rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded SA’s sovereign rating in 2012 (Fitch in January this year) and both Moody’s and S&P put SA on watch list for future downgrades. The ANC secures political support, at least in part, through spending on the public sector wage bill and on social grants – which together now make up more than half of annual non-interest government spending. Additionally, the ANC has occasionally shown itself hostage to the views of its alliance partners or popular opinion in its spending and revenue plans (Gauteng toll-roads, youth wage subsidy). The ratings agencies don’t like the tension and I expect the bond markets won’t either.
My view: South Africa maintains respectable debt-to-GDP ratios, although these grew to 39% of GDP by end-2012, substantially higher than the 34% for emerging and developing economies as a whole. When Fitch downgraded SA earlier this year, it specifically mentioned concerns about SA’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio, given that the ratio is higher (and rising at a faster pace) than the country’s peers.
South Africa is uniquely (eg in relation to its BRICS peers) exposed to foreign investor sentiment through the deficit on the current account combined with liquid and deep fixed interest markets. SA’s widening deficit on the current account is a specific factor that concerns the rating agencies and is one of the metrics the agencies will use to assess SA’s sovereign risk in the near future. Further downgrades are the risk – potentially driven by foreign investor sentiment about political risks. Non-investment grade (junk bond status) is not an inconceivable future rating.
Financial markets: A significant sell-off in the rand, coupled with persistent currency volatility and reduced foreign capital inflows. Traditionally this scenario would mean investors look for rand hedges and attempt to get exposure to export-orientated sectors, including manufacturing – and to stay out of the bond market. Offshore borrowing costs will be raised for domestic companies – as well as for the country as a whole. This risk has an internal feedback loop (downgrades make debt more difficult to pay, leading to further downgrades) and naturally feeds other political risks, including in relation to taxation, clumsy government intervention, social stability and property rights.
The among the reasons I have failed to publish here for almost six weeks is I have been on a seemingly endless roadshow (series of presentations to fund managers domestically and in Europe and the UK) that started with Marikana, morphed into Telkom and is on its way back to its origins by focusing more on the strikes cascading through our economy. Combined with this is my contractual obligations to write political commentary for my clients – with a degree of exclusivity as part of the reasons why I get paid for it. Thus I have had almost no time to write anything here.
Another, more difficult to explain reason for my coming to a virtual publishing standltill on my blog is that my views about the state of the nation have darkened considerably since Markina and I have been gestating the idea that the National Union of Mineworkers’ loss of support and the Marikana shooting might be an almost perfect metaphor – or even predictive model – for the state of the ANC and its relation to society more generally.
I will try to put some flesh on those bones during the course of the week. But meanwhile here is a short opinion piece I wrote last week for clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities concerning the putative relationship between the strike wave and Julius Malema.
Will the wildcat strikes in the mining sector and Julius Malema’s populist campaign link up in a way that drives them both further, harder and deeper than they would have been driven separately and apart?
The South African news flow is confusing and jarring at the moment – and might well be driving sentiment against resource counters. What follows is not a definitive answer to the question, but my first case expectation is that the strikes will be resolved through wage offers and that Malema will continue to get some traction with the strikers but that his ‘fight back’ campaign against Zuma and against his (Malema’s) expulsion has not got an endless potential to unravel South Africa.
We would be remiss if we did not keep the possibility of a generalised revolt and economic paralysis in mind but if I was forced to bet on an outcome – which I would not do unless forced, because the future is impossible to know before it arrives - I would guess we are approaching the apex of the threat in this specific confluence of events.
Strike action sometimes cascades through an economy and to some degree this is what is happening in the mining sector. However, in my opinion the press is too simply portraying the myriad strike actions in different parts of the economy as belonging to the same trend, when in fact some of the strikes are normal and predictable events is our collective bargaining system.
The ‘wild cat strikes’ (i.e. unprotected in law and outside of the collective bargaining system) starting in the platinum sector (with the Marikana incident at Lonmin giving the most impetus) are now spreading through the gold sector. In coal and in transport ‘protected’ (i.e. part of the collective bargaining process and stemming from a failure to agree upon a wage settlement) strikes are underway.
It is clear from union (Cosatu’s Satawu – the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) statements concerning the truck drivers’ strike that at least some of the momentum and energy of the settlement at Marikana is being used to give the strikers hope and encouragement, but it is likely that this strike would have happened even if there was no “Marikana’ to help spur it on. This strike came about as a result of a deadlock in wage negotiations and began on Monday morning.
The platinum and gold strikes are a different matter entirely. Workers can be legally dismissed for partaking in these ‘unprotected’ strikes – for example Amplats CEO Chris Griffith indicated yesterday that the company would consider dismissals if workers did not return to work from today. Press reports indicate that 35 000 workers at AngloGold’s Kopanang mine have joined the action. Business Report suggests that there are approximately 75 000 workers (15 % of the workforce) on strike (or prevented from going to work because of intimidation) across South Africa’s mining sector. These numbers are significant, but not overwhelming.
Nic Dinham, head of resources at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities in South Africa has pointed out that most workers, even the supposedly especially militant Rock Drill Operators, returned to work at Marikana for an increase of just over R2000 – and this despite the violence and anger that followed the police shootings. “This hardly seems revolutionary to me”, he said in a comment yesterday.
A wildcard variable here is if there were high levels of dismissals this might lead to the strikes being more protracted and serious than I expect; alternatively the closure of certain shaft and operations might break the transmission mechanism for the spread of the strike more quickly.
Julius Malema’s on-going push to insert himself into the mining strike is going to cause worries today. He said outside his money laundering hearing yesterday: “These charges which they brought against me, they do not affect me at all. I am unshaken, I am not intimidated. I am going to continue the struggle against economic freedom (sic), they are wasting time. Tomorrow I am going to Impala mine in Rustenburg; we are going to encourage the workers to demand R12 500.”
There is no evidence that Malema caused – directly or indirectly – the strike at Impala in January or the strike at Lonmin that culminated in the Marikana incident on August 16. It is true that he was welcomed by strikers both at Impala and at Marikana – and is likely to be welcomed at Lonmin again today (although the police might stop him as they did at his second attempt to address the Marikana strikers.) But if the strikers will, ultimately, go back to work as soon as they have achieved a satisfactory (to them) wage settlement, why would we imagine that the mine workers are a potential revolutionary base for Julius Malema?
Julius Malema is on trial for money laundering – in a case that implicates him and his close allies in serious criminal activity (money laundering carries an up to 15 year jail term). Malema argues (with some justification, at least with regard to timing) that the case is politically motivated. This raises the compelling comparison between what is happening to Malema in the lead-up to Mangaung and what happened to Zuma in the lead up to Polokwane in 2007.
Zuma and his allies managed to turn corruption allegations into a successful campaign for the presidency of the ANC and the country – largely by portraying Zuma as a victim of Thabo Mbeki’s manipulations of the criminal justice system. It is important to note that this campaign was ultimately focussed on a vote at the ANC’s national conference and it never had a significant element of mass-mobilisation (except symbolically) and it certainly never looked like it might spill-over into some form of generalised unrest.
At this stage in the lead-up to Polokwane Zuma was already being backed by several regions of the ANC and by the ANC Youth League, the SACP, Cosatu and the ANCY Women’s League. Within the ruling alliance Malema has no official or formal support from any structure, except for a split vote in the Youth League – and, ultimately, succession will be determined by a vote at the ANC’s national conference in December and not by popular opinion. It is my view that what happened at Marikana indicates that the “formal structures” of the Ruling Alliance are not the determinant of history that they once were, but the Mangaung vote is purely an ANC affair and not necessary responsive to popular sentiment.
Unlike Zuma in 2007, Malema has been expelled from the ANC and is now free to take his campaign to the streets – but is also denied the ability to fight within ANC structures for reinstatement and/or for Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma as president in December. Nominations formally open in ANC structures next week Monday (1st of October).
A Wildcard variable here would be if Zuma and the state security apparatus gave in to the temptation to detain Malema on charges similar to sedition – this could give the crisis significant legs; alternatively it would take out of play a key element of the conflict and might lead to an early resolution of this particular contest.
None of this speaks directly to possible impacts on the market. The price of a number of financial instruments might be affected – perhaps quite seriously – through lost production and through negative sentiment more generally about the South African story.
My own view is that the medium term political risk environment is significantly elevated through a combination of these factors (wild cat strikes and Malema) – along with the growing interdependency of the incumbent faction of the ANC and Cosatu (leading to greater state intervention in the economy and a more onerous labour market regime) growing violence in ANC internal election processes (largely because of intensity of competition to control patronage networks), the growing collapse of the boundaries between the public and private sector (corruption and tender-abuse) and an inability to resolve the social malaise engendered by unacceptably high levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty (leading to social instability and opportunities for populist politics).
Thus my answer to the opening question is:
I think the confluence of events makes the crisis larger than the sum of its parts, but it does not have an unlimited potential to become a more generalised and sustained revolt – thus no Arab Spring situation. However, as a backdrop to increased political risk it will have significant financial market impacts.
After last week’s Cosatu strike against labour brokers and e-tolling the question of the future of the relationship between the Cosatu and the ANC has again consumed public debate.
I have quickly jotted down some of the issues as I see them and how I think the situation might play out in the longer term (and apologies for scruffiness – I am under the whip):
It is necessary to understand what these organisations are and how they differ – before we think about what they might do
Cosatu is a federation of trade unions (trades union, actually … but that always sounds a little pompous) and therefore represents employed workers while the ANC is currently the ruling political party in this country and as such represents a much broader set of interests, especially, in this case, the unemployed and business – and is additionally obliged to balance these interests against each other.
It is obvious why Cosatu must oppose labour brokers. Cosatu has spent considerable energy in influencing the ANC to structure the labour market in a way that strengthens it’s cartel-like hold on the supply of labour. Labour brokers are a way in which the unemployed and potential employers can circumvent some of the strictures of the regulatory environment. Labour brokers have helped create a shadow duality in the market – and have thus caused Cosatu to lose some control over supply.
Another way of saying this …. If you have one set of workers that are employed with the full protections and benefits afforded them by legal and regulatory structuring of the labour market and another set who are essentially desperate enough to work for less money and with less job security, then those who cannot find a place in the first set have the option of joining the second set – and employers who cannot afford to shop in the first set will shop in the second … meaning Cosatu loses control over supply.
Cosatu argues that if you make the existence of the ‘second set’ illegal it will force employers to shop in the ‘first set’ – thereby creating permanent ‘quality jobs’.
The eternal wrangle is that most economists and several ANC thinkers believe that what actually would happen (and is happening) is employers, at some difficult to determine point, decide that the costs and hassles of only having the ‘first set’ to shop in incentivises them to “shop elsewhere” – shift parts of the labour process to other countries where labour protections are less onerous on the employer, or they mechanise the labour process – hence the structural nature of our unemployment.
The ANC, on the other hand, is under the whip to create more employment – and that pressure comes directly from the unemployed. The youth wage subsidy scheme was correctly understood by Cosatu to be seen as a threatening – to its interests – attempt to create duality through the back door. The ANC agrees with Cosatu that many labour brokers are guilty of the worst excesses of free market exploitation, but propose to remedy the situation by regulating the labour brokers more carefully … not removing them completely from the market.
But what about the e-tolling?
Essentially the e-tolling issue was serendipitous timing for Cosatu. Completely separate disputes occurred in Nedlac over e-tolling and labour brokers so Cosatu had the right to declare protest strikes and marches under section 77 (1) (d) of the Labour Relations Act against either, neither or both issues – they did both. Essentially the melding of the actions allowed Cosatu to win a few class allies to its cause of opposing labour brokers. Not that e-tolling is not genuinely hated by Cosatu and the federation believes that its members will be worst effected … which should give you an insight into just who Cosatu’s members are and the difference between them and the marginalised and unemployed majority who would invariably use un-tolled public transport (mostly taxis) or travel on shank’s mare, which takes another kind of toll entirely.
Cosatu and Zuma
Cosatu clearly backed Zuma against Mbeki because it believed either that Zuma would be beholden to it and therefore allow it more policy access (which I think has essentially been true) … or just that Mbeki was a more dangerous enemy of Cosatu’s narrow agenda (something I also believe was true). There can be no argument that Zuma was more likely to hold ideological or policy agendas that were essentially closer to Cosatu’s. To my mind Cosatu was opportunistic and unprincipled – whichever way you spin it – in backing someone so clearly hell-bent on extending his control over patronage networks and making his family and friends fabulously wealthy.
One way to understand what is happening in Cosatu now is that one faction is trying to withdraw from the strategy because the Nkandla chickens are coming home to roosts, while the other faction is sticking to its guns.
I think, however, that both factions have realised that they have put too much energy into influencing national politics in the ANC and not enough energy into building up the federation’s grass-roots and factory-floor structures, membership and leadership. Trade unionism is on retreat globally – because of the globalisation of the labour market – and Cosatu is worried about not having stuck to its knitting (sorry for all the awful clichés here, but I am in something of a hurry.)
Cosatu has always had an ambiguous relationship with the ‘political movements’ – be those the United Democratic Front, Azapo or the ANC … perhaps even Inkatha should be included here. When Cosatu was established in 1985 out of the unions that had made up Fosatu (the Federation of South African Trade Unions) it immediately inherited the main debates and factions that had characterised trade unionism for years in South Africa.
The divisions centred around:
- whether to register and thereby co-operate with the Apartheid state
- whether white workers could be organised into progressive unions
- the desirability of general unions versus industry based unions
- ‘workerists’ versus ‘populists’ – which boiled down to a debate about whether unions should be involved in national politics and be in a formal relationship with the national political movements; whether they would be sucked into the agenda of those political movements and should therefore focus instead on ‘shop floor’ issues and maximum worker unity.
From the start the National Union of Mineworkers was a pro-ANC/SACP bastion within Cosatu and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, formed out of at least 6 other unions, came to represent a position more cautious and suspicious of the political movements.
Thus we have an emerging consensus in the press that Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have upped the ante against Zuma and ‘corrupt ANC leaders” while an SACP aligned faction including Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini and the powerful National Union of Mineworkers is firmly behind Zuma.
Currently Cosatu seems – to my mind – to have finessed an internal agreement between its factions to back Zuma for re-election at Mangaung in exchange for a more vigorous opposition to corruption generally in the ANC and to campaign for a more worker friendly ANC NEC to emerge out of Mangaung.
Ahead … (remember ‘tomorrow’ is the country from which no-one has ever returned … so take this all with the appropriate pinch of salt):
- The struggle will continue. Cosatu has fought with the ANC since 1994 and strong suspicions existed between much of the trade union movement and the ANC before that. This is normal, natural and appropriate given the diverging interests of the people represented by each organisation. The relationship has always contained the seeds of its future breakdown.
- Zwelinzima Vavi’s faction is most similar to a combination of European social democrats, labour parties and green parties. It is radical and anti-capitalist, but it is also modern, deeply opposed to corruption and authoritarianism, has consistently taken the right line on Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS, is protective of the constitution and freedom of speech and is most likely to seek alliances with anti-ANC ‘civil society’ groups over single issue campaigns (right to know, freedom of speech, corruption, HIV/AIDS etc.)
- The tension is inbuilt … the ANC will never give into Cosatu’s full set of demands – if anything it will go the other way – and Cosatu will never stop making the demands, louder and louder.
- At some future time – probably way down the road – the Numsa faction will ally itself with those attempting to organise the constituency the ANC Youth League aspires to represent and break out of the ruling alliance to form a new left opposition. For the foreseeable future (and remember none of the future is actually foreseeable) the advantages of staying in the alliance with the ANC outwieghs the losses and gains that would be realised by setting off on their own.
- The SACP will increasingly concern itself with trying to mediate the relationship between Cosatu and the ANC – which effectively means it will support the Num faction or tendency in Cosatu. This is not a basis upon which a political party can sustain itself. The SACP would have to split from the ANC and fight elections on its own – essentially capture the space that a Numsa/ANCYL type breakaway might have occupied – if it was to grow and prosper. I don’t think this will happen and therefore I think the SACP will be gradually squeezed into irrelevance.
Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:
Firstly – a by-product of Malema’s (possible) retreat
I have a feeling that debates ranging from mine nationalisation, land distribution and continued white economic dominance in the South African economy have just been saved from the gangsters in the ANC Youth League who have been using these as a cover for looting.
It has been difficult not to lump every statement about ongoing race based inequality with the smokescreen slogans used by the ANC Youth League leadership – and many equally corrupt politicians.
The latest Commission of Employment Equity Annual Report says whites still occupy 73.1 percent of top management positions – and blacks 12.7, Indians 6.8 and coloureds 4.6? Yeah, well they would say that wouldn’t they – after all, that is (one of) Jimmy Manyi’s old outfits and he is the grandmaster of running racial interference for pillaging resources destined for development!
Willing-seller, willing buyer policy of land distribution responsible for only 5 percent of redistribution targets met? Yeah, well, guess who are trying to get themselves a portfolio of farms a la Zanu-PF?
Nationalise the mines? Yeah, so you can rescue your BEE backers and get a piece of the action yourself?
But that was last week.
Those issues are back on the agenda, but this time the discussion might be led by people genuinely looking to harness the country’s resources for development and transformation – not looters, corrupt tenderpreneurs and “demagogic populists” disguising their true intentions.
If anyone thought we could go on with the levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty and racially skewed distribution of ownership and control of this economy I suspect they will find they have been very much mistaken.
One of the consequences of the retreat of the Malema agenda is that we will all have to deal with the issues we have, up until now, been able to dismiss or deflect because they were ‘owned” and propagated by thugs.
Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is
In a similar vein – and my favourite read of the week – was Itumeleng Mahabane’s column in Friday’s Business Day.
He deals with a variety of aspects of the country’s debates about development and transformation.
In tones that have been tightly stripped – of anger, I suspect – Mahabane appeals for the debate to lose the “prejudicial invectives” and that participants should “desist from creating cardboard villains”.
He makes 4 main points (actually he makes a whole lot more, and it is not impossible that I misinterpret him here – and he is certainly more subtle and nuanced than my summary below – so read the original column – the link again.)
Firstly he suggests (although in the form of a question, not the statement as I have it here) that we have to acknowledge the damage our Apartheid past has done our country, leaving “the inequity of our income distribution and the historic systematic destruction of black capability”.
Secondly he hints that the state cannot assume more economic responsibility before we have fixed accountability – and thereby arrested corruption.
Thirdly he appeals for a sophistication of our views on the labour market – I think by suggesting that a degree of duality is crucial.
But, he warns:
I do not subscribe to the simplistic and questionable idea that the inability to hire and fire people is the core cause of structural unemployment. The balanced high growth would create demand for labour, regardless of labour rigidity.
Fourthly he asked us analysts why:
we casually, without considering the social implications, vilify workers and the working class, making them useful villains for complex economic challenges? We almost never give view to the body of evidence that shows that market rigidity and anticompetitive behaviour is a significant factor in deterring investment and output and that, in fact, it contributes to SA’s excessive business and skilled-labour rents.
Those are important views – and an important corrective to aspects of our debate about development.
You might have picked up from warm and welcoming statements by the Democratic Alliance and a flood of beaming news stories that our Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan said something slightly more exciting about economic policy than the bland pap from the policy kitchen of the increasingly awkward compromise which is the Ruling Alliance.
But before anyone gets too excited we should look at exactly what he said.
First up, in the main body of his speech to the 14th annual conference of the Board of the Institute of Internal Auditors – a body I suspect has hitherto not been allowed to bask at the centre of an important breaking news story – he suggested as part of his list of things that need to be done to “energetically reposition, restructure and reform our economy” :
Lower the cost of young, inexperienced low-skilled workers for firms to stimulate the demand for labour
That is from the paper as published on the the Treasury’s website – catch that here – it is well worth a read.
Then press stories – this from the New Age – seem to imply that he took things a little further in discussion. I give you the full text below, especially as the journalist has left off quotation marks on the key sentence, making me wonder if this is more a case of hearing what you want to hear than it is an accurate reflection of exactly what the minister said:
The New Growth Path envisages the creation of five million jobs by 2020. Gordhan suggested that South Africa might have to relax its labour laws in certain cases to grow jobs. “We may have to change the way we see the labour dispensation in South Africa,” he said.
For example, a balance needed to be found to retain the jobs of the 10,000 people working at clothing factories in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, while still allowing them to earn a reasonable wage and keeping the factories open.
There is no doubt in my mind that the inflexibility of our labour market is partly responsible for the high levels of unemployment in this country.
I have tired of pointing out that as the representative of the ‘already employed’ Cosatu is not to be trusted to talk on behalf of the ‘unemployed’ – with whom its interests often conflict (see here, but a number of other places as well).
The Minister of Finance’s job is to find an economic policy that somehow reflects the national interest – and not the sectional interest of organised labour.
The most important government priority is to find ways to grow the economy in a manner that helps create the greatest number of jobs.
With a government gone soft in the middle, led by a compromised and beholden president, it is a relief to hear someone in power, however tentatively, at least name the nettle if not actually grasp it.
The budget is the spending, taxation and borrowing plans of government.
Don’t just think of it as a series of hefty documents (the national budget review, the estimate of national expenditure, the appropriations bill and the division of revenue bill) – hundreds of pages and millions of calculations, graphs and tables.
It is more than just the grand plan to tax and borrow and divide the money between central , provincial government and municipal governments as well as between a thousand different priorities.
It is, in theory and in a functioning democracy at any rate, how the will of the people is exercised in the world; the full process of planning and execution by the elected government.
Obviously elected governments are not always perfect translations of “the popular will”, and “the popular will” itself is not always something more noble than a self serving and ugly little collection of prejudices, fear and greed.
But anyway, the questions I was asking of the budget were:
- Is the Treasury still the guiding hand in macro-economic policy – in the sense that it remains able to force prudence and fiscal rectitude on the rest of government?
- The New Growth Path calls for measures to make the currency more competitive: more restrained fiscal stance combined with more active monetary policy, accumulation of reserves, a sovereign wealth fund and possible controls on short term capital inflows. Does the Budget 2011 confirm these commitments?
- How much money will be allocated to removing infrastructural, skills and administrative bottlenecks in the economy? Is there the promised Marshall Plan type urgency to increase the economy’s capacity for growth?
- Are there measures to encourage domestic savings: compulsory retirement savings, discouraging high debt levels, increasing corporate savings by discouraging dividend payments and development bonds … and horror of horrors the return of a strong version of ‘directed investments’? Depending on how this is phrased it could spook investors and generally indicate hostility to open markets.
- Were the supportive measures in the State of the Nation address (in particular the R20bn to manufacturing subsides) something new or actually measures that had been announced before?
- Did the mention of a 9 billion rand jobs fund in the State of the National address refer to the long missing subsidy for first time youth workers? This is significant because it will show government preparedness to take on Cosatu over the labour market.
- Shifts in the over-all allocation of state money between priority areas as different as policing, housing, water and sewerage can indicate changing strategies as well as changing prioritisation. But in general we will be looking for the meat on the bones of the statement that government wishes to be a “developmental” not a “welfare” state.
- How close are we to a National Health Insurance scheme and how aggressive will that scheme be to the private sector?
- Is the allocation for the civil servants wage bill set to endlessly increase or does it look like government might, at some stage, dig in its heals and face down the public sector unions.
- What measure are in place or likely to be put in place to control corruption and cronyism within government departments and in the allocation of state contracts?
If that was where I was looking for the signs of where we are going, my next post will look at what the budget revealed with regard to these questions.
‘Not as bad as I feared; perhaps even better than I hoped’ – is my reply to the question implicit in the title.
I have been flat-out covering the event for paying clients and I was at parliament in the gracious hands of the lovely people from Radio 2000 – where I commented for about an hour. Hence me only scribbling these short notes at this late stage in proceedings.
View from before
This is what I had to say before the event:
It is a ceremonial occasion; Jacob Zuma is there in his capacity as Head of State (not only head of government); it’s a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces; the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is in formal attendance; there’s a red carpet, a twenty-one gun salute and a public gallery packed with ordinary people, senior representatives of the governing alliance and foreign and local dignitaries … this is just not a place where policy decisions, especially the various nettles Jacob Zuma will be required to grasp, could be spoken of in the clear and forthright terms that will, ultimately, be required.
View from the moment
I was initially very positive.
After a ten minute glance at the document I said to Reuters:
With surprising fluency Jacob Zuma managed to sound like a head of state dealing with an emergency – the crisis of unemployment. He didn’t grasp the nettle of the regulations that are strangling the labour market, but he placed more emphasis than expected on the private sector – especially manufacturing. There was also more detail than expected – and a confirmation that the interventionist aspects of the NGP will be issues to be dealt with this year.
I was impressed by the details namely:
- The nugget at the core of the speech: the proposed R20 billion in tax breaks for manufacturing investments above R200 million for new projects and R30 million for expansions and upgrades – I do not expect the ANC’s trade union allies to be charmed by this idea (money in the hands of the bosses!) even if they will be amongst the ultimate beneficiaries.
- Significant (and part of the New Growth Path’s underlying strategy of fiscal constraint and monetary easing) he foregrounded the statement that: “The Budget deficit is set to decline from the current 6.7% to between 3 and 4% by 2013. Concerns about the exchange rate have been taken to heart”.
- The R9 billion by 2013 “jobs fund” – what is interesting about this is apparently Helen Zille interpreted this on an SAFM interview as the long-lost subsidy for first time youth workers … Cosatu is also going to hate that implicit segmentation of the labour market. ’
View from today?
I’m still positive. There was lots of ra! ra! in there, but that is to be expected in an election year and, quite frankly, every victory he claimed he said how far we still have to go.
He also spoke surprisingly like a statesman and he made the drive for jobs sound like a clarion call to mobilise the nation for war … which this campaign is or should be.
Finally, he mentioned that the Municipal elections will take place before the end of May. That will be enough grist for me mill … heady times to be a political analyst in this country.
Capitalism, at its most basic and unbridled, is a system that says: okay, the king is dead and therefore no longer owns all this stuff; take what you can … if you can hold onto it, it’s yours. Oh yeah, and you can pay the people who don’t manage to hang onto any stuff to work yours … because if they don’t they will starve.
On your marks, get set … go!
The system is extraordinarily productive, driven as it is by those gargantuan twin-thrust engines: human greed and human fear (you can keep what you can take/failure means death).
One of the great political achievements of the last 300 years has been the refining, softening and regulating of this system so that it maximises the good it can produce for as many as possible.
But note this: it can’t produce the same amount of good for everybody – because its fundamental driver is that it allows the hungriest, cleverest, most creative and most intelligent to keep what they can take. That’s why those people build the enterprise. So they can keep what they can get out of it. That’s the creative heart of the system.
(One of the many flaws of capitalism is it also allows those who have become powerful for reasons other than those listed in the last sentence to “keep what they can take”. Thus both Apartheid apparatchiks and New Elite cronies are (still) living high on the hog for reasons that have nothing to do with the unleashing of their creative spirit and more to do with their ability to cheat and steal. But that is another story.)
The point I wanted to make, is that in its most basic and unregulated form capitalism will allow the owner of the factory or mine to extract the last drop of blood from the worker – and the last drop of blood from his children, his old mum and his maiden aunt. Without regulation the only thing that will stop the capitalist working the worker to death is the need to have him come to work tomorrow and for his children to come to work in ten years time. The history of capitalism has demonstrated this unfortunate truth about humans time and time again.
Thus we have labour market regulations: minimum wages, basic working conditions, rights to dignity, rights to organise and strike. These are amongst our greatest achievements – and they are all there on the law books of the new South Africa.
But there is a line over which we must not cross.
When the law, in effect, demands that the capitalist share equally the profits of the enterprise with the workers, the enterprise is over.
If local regulation means the capitalist can’t make sufficient profit here he (or she) will go elsewhere or will spend his or her time doing something else. That’s it; end of factory, end of jobs and end of story.
Michael Spicer, as CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, is the perfect person to listen to if you want to get an average signal of what South African capitalists are feeling.
His comment in today’s Business Day about the conflict between the flood of proposed changes to labour and employment equity laws and government’s job creation agenda is well worth a read. Catch it here.
It seems to me we are carelessly testing for the “tipping point”, the point beyond which the capitalists mechanise their plants or leave.
Cosatu has released its long awaited document in which it provides the facts (as it sees them) and theoretical underpinnings for “A Growth Path Towards Full Employment” – and in doing so attempts to align its views with those emanating from Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Department of Economic Planning (the Two Year Strategic Plan) as well as Minister Rob Davies of DTI’s (IPAP2).
Stephen Grootes at the Daily Maverick has done an exemplary quick analysis (catch that here). I am not quite certain I am as gung-ho capitalist as the guys down at the the DM are … although I am as clear as Grootes is that Cosatu’s main planks of policy would turn us into a wasteland in two flicks of a lamb’s tail – as not even my old Granny was prissy enough to say.
I saved a copy of Cosatu’s full document here and hope to give it a more thorough treatment than the cursory skim I gave it in the middle of last night. Whatever I conclude will be faithfully reported on these pages.