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Here are some bits and pieces I highlighted for investors over the last few weeks. Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to republish these snippets here … it is also a touch more information that most people require, but I post it here for the record, if nothing else.

I write these under considerable time pressure  – deadline 06h30 0n Monday mornings. They can sometimes be a bit scrappy, but mostly (although with exceptions) still relevant a few weeks later. Where I say ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’ (or whatever) I mean: relative to the date in the highlighted headline above each section. The newest is on the top – stretching all the way back to the ancient history of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the US-Africa summit in Washington.

 

01/09/2014

Lesotho, South Africa … and the Guptas

Lesotho Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, was assisted by South African special forces soldiers to flee to South Africa in the face of a military backed ‘coup’ on early Saturday morning. The ‘coup’ (or ‘coup attempt’ – both terms are used extensively in the coverage) was allegedly orchestrated by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.

The key features of the event were the co-ordinated encircling of police barracks by the military, the disarming of the police and the seizing of the national broadcaster in the country’s capital Maseru on Saturday. (Sunday Times, Voice of America, City Press, Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014).

The Sunday Times story suggests the ‘coup’ was sparked by Friday’s firing of army chief Lieutenant-General Kennedy Kamoli by Lesotho’s King Letsie. The City Press reports that South African troops are on standby for further interventions.

Lesotho army spokesman Major Ntele Ntoi has denied there was a coup and says the army’s actions were purely to disarm police “who had been preparing to provide weapons to political parties” – Sunday Times.

Thabane, in a phone interview with Voice of America, said he was not going back until his safety was secured, that there was a situation of “total indiscipline” in the army and that soldiers were “running around the streets, threatening people” and “quite openly stating that they want my neck” – see here for VOA coverage.

So what?

This is almost too bizarre to type out, but here goes: a significant portion of the coverage of the event refers to the recent controversy surrounding the issuing by Thabane of diplomatic passports to the Gupta brothers (who we know better as key Zuma and ANC backers and funders, see Mail and Guardian coverage “The Grim Tales of the Brothers Gupta” for background).

At the time of the appointment Thobane said “(t)hese people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC and we have good relations with the ANC … I was introduced to them by ANC president [Jacob Zuma] and other ANC officials… I then appointed them to help scout for investment in my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho” – see here for that story.

In highly interpenetrated and interdependent systems of patronage and corruption, unsuccessful attempts to defend one part of the system can unravel the whole system and cause destabilisation throughout the linked networks.

 

Jacob Zuma’s Russian rest

Jacob Zuma visited Russia this week for six days. He had a light schedule and was, unusually, only accompanied by State Security Minister David Mahlabo and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindia Mfeketo. There has been widespread but largely fruitless speculation about what the President was doing in Russia. (See City Press’s “Jacob Zuma’s mysterious mission to Russia” and former leader of the opposition DA Tony Leon in the Sunday Times in an opinion piece titled “How much more abuse can the constitution take from Zuma?” … unfortunately can’t find a link to that.)

So what?

The crisis faced by Russian President Putin is, by all accounts serious and urgent – and it might seem unlikely that he would have made time for a casual tête-à-tête with Jacob Zuma. Thus we can assume that Putin was in part motivated by wanting to demonstrate he still has friends in an increasingly chilly world. Also there is the sourcinig of agricultural products to fill the gaps left by European and US sanctions against Russia over Ukraine – a job South Africa could be well placed to do.

However Jacob Zuma appeared less to be representing South Africa and more on a personal visit – with several reports, including from government, that he would use the opportunity to rest.

It is difficult to escape the perception of two embattled leaders involved in a perhaps complicated exchange and attempting to secure their present and future:

  • there is the upcoming ZAR850bn nuclear build programme that probably depends on Jacob Zuma staying at the helm in South Africa – Russia reportedly hopes to be central to that programme.
  • Jacob Zuma’s key spy chiefs all reportedly resigned when he (Zuma) refused to allow them to investigate the Gupta brothers as a serious threat to national security (see back story on that here).
  • Jacob Zuma faces unprecedented blowback at home, including the possibility of a public discussion around the original fraud, corruption and racketeering charges against him (see here) now that the famous Spy Tapes are to be handed to the Democratic Alliance in the official opposition’s attempts to have the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision not to charge Zuma reviewed.
  • Also in yesterday’s Sunday Times was an important ‘leaked’ story that South Africa had sent a large group of intelligence officers to be trained in Russia and that “the Russians have recruited at least four of our people, which means we are sitting with double agents” – according to an unnamed source “with inside knowledge of the programme” – Sunday Times 31/08/2014.
Twinkle Toes (Pic from GCIS)

Jacob’s Ladder (geddit?) and check out the body languege (Pic from GCIS)

It is not inconceivable or unreasonable to consider the possibility that Jacob Zuma is asking for intelligence and security coverage and offering in return nuclear contracts and public expressions of support. It’s not a perfect theory, but some kind of explanation is required.

 

Ruling alliance divides itself neatly on defending or attacking the public protector – is Jacob Zuma becoming a cost the ANC cannot bear much longer?

Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu general secretary, broke ranks with the ANC on Saturday arguing that the Public Protector’s recommendations on resolving the Nkandla dispute (in which over ZAR200 million of public money was spent irregularly on Jacob Zuma’s private house) should be implemented immediately … “all of them, without exception.” Vavi went on to say that criticism of Madonsela were “absolutely disgusting, to say the least”– Vavi in the Sunday Times 31/08/2014.

So what?

While the main structures of the ANC and its government attempt to close ranks around Jacob Zuma as the multiple scandals unfold and the threats against him grow, the hegemony is crumbling and the edges.

The ANC still has a comfortable electoral majority although as I have pointed out on many occasions, at least part of the electoral declines the ruling party experienced in May, especially in the sophisticated metropolitan areas of the economic heartland of Gauteng, have to do with perception of corruption and mismanagement at the top. It is difficult not to concur with the implicit meaning of the headline of Barney Mthombothi’s column in the Sunday Times yesterday which reads: “ANC courts its own destruction”.

We must consider that the cost of defending Zuma’s multiple infractions is starting to tell on the ANC (as it is telling on the party’s alliance with Cosatu).

I would reason that the ANC’s brand value is being seriously impacted by Jacob Zuma’s presidency and that, almost as a natural law, such a threat to value will call into being an attempt to defend the value by those who have the most to lose (other leaders and members of the ANC)

It’s the future, so I am guessing, but I think it is an even chance that Jacob Zuma will be moved into retirement within the next two years and that the official reasons will be related to his health.

(This added as I post these comments here: the above several paragraphs might be wishful thinking. If you want to see a well reasoned opinion that takes the opposite view, see the interesting  Daily Maverick column by Ranjeni Munusami arguing that Zuma will see out his second term. I suspect that I just can’t live in a world where the thugs get away with it for ever (this paragraph was edited after posting – Ed)

 

Ebola spreads to Senegal – World Health Organisation warns of ‘rapid hike’ in infections

The Ebola (haemorrhagic fever) epidemic ‘sweeping’ West Africa has killed approximately 1500 people and the first cases have been confirmed in Senegal, having up until now being confined in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

So what?

Ebola was first identified in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976 and outbreaks have been common in Central and Western Africa since that time. The disease is isolated and confined to countries with weak public health systems and high levels of poverty. In all the news coverage, the headlines tend to be more alarming than the content of the stories. There are various experimental drugs in trial (including one made jointly by GlaxoSmithKline and the US government which has achieved high levels of success) – Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014.

 

25/08/2014

Pay Back the Money … or we’ll huff and we’ll puff

Julius Malema and his cohorts in the National Assembly didn’t quite blow the House down on Thursday last week during President’s Question Time.

JULIUS

They disrupted parliament by demanding that Jacob Zuma pay back a portion of the costs of upgrades to his Nkandla home, as specified by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Their chanted refusal to accept the stock brushoff from Zuma and the poor management of the showdown by Baleka Mbete, Parliamentary Speaker (and ANC National Chairperson), is the leading edge of yet another storm that concerns Jacob Zuma’s integrity – and the ability of the constitutional mechanisms to hold him to account. (Here for a useful and interesting take on festivities.)

 

But political theatre becomes something more serious as the Public Protector and the ANC and its allies go head-to-head on the issue

Several Sunday papers reported yesterday ( 24/08/2014) that the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has sent a letter to Jacob Zuma criticising several aspects of his response to her Secure in Comfort report and specifically arguing that he (Zuma)  did not have the constitutional right to set aside or review her findings or to allow Police Minister Thathi Nhleko to do so (in essence Zuma has asked Nhleko to determine what his – Zuma’s – financial obligations are with regard to the Nkandla security upgrades).

According to constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos Madonsela is well within her rights. “This is not legally controversial,” he says, quoted in today’s Business Day (25/08/2014). “The president is either receiving appallingly bad legal advice or he is wilfully abusing his power and thwarting the law to protect himself in order to unlawfully benefit financially from the state.”

Both the ANC and the SACP came out late yesterday afternoon strongly critical of Madonsela, arguing that she had overreached herself, especially as a parliamentary committee was currently dealing with the matter.

So what?

The clash in parliament on Thursday made a significant media impact and it seemed for a moment that the damage being done the ANC by the party endlessly having to defend its wayward leader could conceivably lead to some profound political realignment.

But that feeling was brief.

The EFF has 25 MPs in the National Assembly, to the ANC’s 249 and the DA’s 89.  The chances are, the ANC in parliament will work out a set of rules that essentially disciplines the EFF (already MPs may be suspended for not more than 30 days and have their salary docked for the same period).

Jacob Zuma is a master at diverting crises like this into long (perhaps endless) processes that have a degree (or at least a semblance) of legitimacy and constitutionality. And there is a parliamentary process dealing with Nkandla underway and whether this process is an attempt to ‘set aside or review’ the Public Protector’s findings could be the subject of years’ of constitutional debate, such that many of the players will be long gone by the time it is resolved.

There is considerable stability in a system so tightly bound within itself through links of patronage and shared loyalties – although I suspect that when such a system eventually unwinds, it unwinds quickly and perhaps catastrophically.

Jacob Zuma is off for a week in Russia – to work and to rest – and the game will go on. “The visit will further strengthen the excellent bilateral relations with a view to consolidating and opening new avenues towards job creation, skills development, exchange and transfer of technology and trade and investment,” said the Department of International Relations yesterday.

There may be some future moment when the ANC could face electoral losses because of public perceptions about corruption of its leaders, but that day is still far enough ahead to not impact (in any meaningful way) upon behaviour in the present.

(So … that isn’t a direct contradiction on what Nic thought on September 1, but it is more than a little close. I strongly suspect it might be a biorhythm, or hormonal thing – Ed)

 

Julius Malema … how did he ‘Pay Back the Money’?

Julius Malema appears in court today to face questions about where he got the money to pay his R18 million tax bill. According to Rapport newspaper (24/08/2014) the South African Revenue Service (Sars), would ask for a two-month extension of Malema’s provisional sequestration to determine where he got the money to repay his tax debt each month. The newspaper reports that “impeccable sources” allege that “cigarette smuggler Andriano Mazzotti was helping to pay his tax debt” – as re-reported at the Independent Online 25/08/2014 – see here. (I don’t know the Afrikaans language Rapport newspaper well – it is part of Naspers’s Media24 stable – treat the claim with maximum caution). (Not because of Naspers of Media24 – for so are they all, all honourable men … the caution is purely because the claim is faintly outrageous, which doesn’t mean it’s not true – Ed)

So what?

While Julius Malema’s insistence that Jacob Zuma account to parliament is welcome, we should be careful to not lose our sense of discernment. Julius Malema himself has faced a long list of accusations similar to those he is making against the ANC and Jacob Zuma.

 

Land and wage reform – unintended consequences

Two interesting articles in the Sunday papers hint at some of the negative unintended consequences of attempts to protect the interests of the marginalised and vulnerable workers on South African farms.

Firstly, the Sunday Times (24/08/2014) has a colour piece titled “Good intentions pave the road to rural hell” in which the 1997 Extension of Security of Tenure Act is assessed as having “led to as many as a million farmworkers being evicted countrywide”.

Secondly, the Sunday Independent (24/08/2014) records an interesting discussion about the impact of ‘minimum wage’ determinations on employment. The article shares different views on the matter, but concludes that in SA agriculture “the impact was devastating: Employment fell from 819 048 jobs in 2002, just before the law came into effect, to 623 750 jobs in 2003 and continued to decline to 555 549 jobs in 2007 – a net loss of almost a third in five years.”

So what?

The ANC has signalled an urgent desire to ‘get serious’ about land reform.  As we have mentioned previously ‘the land question’ seems to suggest to the ANC an answer to a host of social needs: employment, housing, food security, and black economic empowerment, to name only the most obvious. Racially unequal land ownership patterns (it is generally quoted that SA had 87% of land in white hands at the 1994 transition and that less than 8% has been redistributed since – see here) are also a driver of political dissatisfaction, perhaps helping feed the growth of the EFF and other ‘radical’ forces emerging in the society.

For now government is preparing a host of new legislation and regulation all the while signalling to commercial agriculture that it wants to be met half-way. There will probably be unintended consequences of government’s land reform and rural development programme (including negative impacts) but the lessons from the banking sector (for example with regard to the formulation of the National Credit Act) is that it is always a better idea for the private sector to go out and engage with government and attempt to shape legislation than it is to wait and deal with the future when it is a fait accompli.

 

21/08/2014

Mining, oil and gas sectors: legislative and regulatory drift and a scary audit

Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi didn’t calm nerves last week during his address to the third annual Mining Lekgotla. The minister is overseeing two significant regulatory processes causing anxiety in these sectors, namely a major audit of mining companies’ compliance with the 10 year targets of the Mining Charter and the signing into law of a bill amending the Mineral and Petroleum Development Act of 2002 (which the private sector thought it had essentially cautiously agreed to in exchange for it – the private sector – being consulted in detail about the regulations that would arise from the legislation).

With regard to the audit, Minister Ramathlodi said: “(w)hile the review process on the implementation of the Mining Charter is still under way, initial results suggest that whatever compliance we may have achieved, much more work still needs to be done” – Business Day -14/08/2014

With regard to the legislation the Minister said he had not been informed by the Presidency whether or when the bill would be signed into law. “There are legal teams that look at any legislation coming before the president and they advise him. When they do so we’ll act on that advice” – Business Day ibid.  Download Minister Ramatlhodi’s full address at the DMR website here.

So what?

Firstly, the audit obliges the mining companies to meet various ‘transformation’ obligations and targets by 2014 e.g., 26% of the company must be owned, through “full shareholder rights”,  by HDSA (Historically Disadvantaged South Africans) by the end of this year – as a precondition for the retention of the mining right. Go to www.dmr.gov.za to see the “Mining Charter” and the “Scorecard for the Broad-Based Socio-economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining Industry” to get a full view.

2014 is the year in which several definite obligations must be met by the mining companies and there is a degree of nervousness by investors and management as to how strict the audit will be, how much leeway the ministry will give and how severe the consequences of failure will be.

Purely the administrative aspects of the reporting process are enough to be a serious burden for smaller mining companies, according to Nic Dinham, Head of Resources at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities

The apparent prevarication in signing the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill, after months of careful negotiations between the department and the mining companies, has caused the industry to worry that deals struck and compromises made might be up for renegotiation. There was a general expectation that the constitutionality of the amendments would need to be tested and examined (especially government’s 20% proposed free-carry interest in all new exploration and production rights in the oil and gas sector).  It appears to me that the delays are adding to a more generalised sense of uncertainty about the growing regulatory burden and costs associated with continuing to mine in South Africa.

 

Amcu set to go on the offensive at Num’s last toeholds in the Platinum sector – non-cyclical risk factors in the SA labour environment escalate

Nic Dinham (BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities Head of Resources referred to in a previous section) said yesterday that in the platinum operations where Amcu is not (yet) the major union (at several mines, but including those operations at Aquarius Platinum and Northam Platinum) there were significant indications that Amcu was close to recognition thresholds (specific to each company) and that it was reasonable to expect increased labour unrest at the particular operations and companies where Num was clinging to a majority.

“During the recent result presentations, several companies reported that operations previously dominated by Num are showing signs of losing ground to Amcu, especially in the Rustenburg areas”, said Dinham.

“This is the case at Aquarius Platinum as well as at Northam where Amcu membership has risen to 30% and 15% respectively, just short of both companies’ recognition levels. Clearly, this could be the harbinger of more labour storms to come. At the same time, only small numbers of workers in the existing Amcu fortresses switched to NUM after the end of the strike. So, despite all the rational arguments about the financial impact of the strike on labour, Amcu appear to have won the propaganda war with the mining industry” – Nic Dinham, 20/08/2014.

So what?

There are a number of important implications, not least of which is the confirmation (and deepening) of the implicit defection of mineworkers in the Platinum sector from a key ANC aligned union (Num) and the continued disintegration of previously powerful trade union federation and ANC ally, Cosatu.

In some ways this frees the ANC (and government) to decide on economic policy without having to kowtow to Cosatu, but it will also raise anxieties in the ruling party about the narrowing of its base – and a diminishment of its hegemony and moral authority.

None of that is necessarily a bad thing. It is my opinion that our legislative and regulatory environment has tended to suffer from a lack of clarity and focus as a result of the ANC attempting to keep a number of different legacy constituencies (and sectional interests) happy and on-board.

However, it is also worth noting that my general expectation of a deteriorating labour environment is strengthened by concerns about labour unrest driven by further contestation between Amcu and Num. This, together with a coming trial of strength in all (or most) Cosatu unions that will accompany the impending Numsa split out of Cosatu will be a strong, non-cyclical, driver of labour unrest for the next 18 months. Jeff Schultz (BNP Paribas Cadiz Economist) and I recently suggested that these strands driving labour unrest, along with what we expect will be a major confrontation that will accompany the lead-up to the expiry of the current 3-year public sector wage agreement in March 2015, will keep labour risks at elevated levels in the South African investment environment for at least another 18 months.

 

Cyril Ramaphosa – a hard week down at the Commission

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa last week faced an avalanche of criticism and heckling at the Farlam Commission (which is investigating the killing of 44 people at Marikana on and before August 16 2012 in the context of the protracted strike at Lonmin mines in the Rustenburg area at that time).

Cyril Ramaphosa was called to the commission to explain his actions in the lead-up to the Marikana killings. Ramaphosa was on the Lonmin board at the time and in an email to Lonmin managers he said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”. In both these cases I have added the emphasis.

At the Farlam Commission hecklers shouted “Blood on your hands” (City Press 11/08/2014) during Ramaphosa’s cross-examination. Hecklers wore T-shirts with several different slogans criticising Ramaphosa’s wealth, for example one showed a buffalo in reference to the fact that Ramaphosa bid – unsuccessfully as it turned out – R19.5 million for a buffalo cow and her calf at a wildlife auction a month after the Marikana killings in 2012.

So what?

There is a high level of speculation as to whether Cyril Ramaphosa will succeed Jacob Zuma as president (when the current presidential term expires in 2019 or at some earlier date due to Jacob Zuma’s purported ill health.) There appears to me to be a widespread assumption in the financial markets that Cyril Ramaphosa, as an experienced businessman and an experienced negotiator and conciliator who was central to easing the transition at Codesa 1 and 2 in the early 90s, would be more sensitive to the needs of the private sector, more compliant with global capital markets and, generally, run a cleaner and more efficient ship.

Implicit in that list of attributes is the person who Ramaphosa would be cleaner than, more conciliatory than, more understanding of private sector needs than, is Jacob Zuma. It is impossible to know either that Ramaphosa really has such attributes relative to Zuma or that it is really or primarily those attributes that make Ramaphosa a more attractive choice than Zuma for the financial markets … or, in fact, whether the ‘financial markets’ really makes these kinds of distinctions.

It is my impression that Jacob Zuma’s rise to power and performance as president has been accompanied (and in several cases directly caused) increased political risks associated with investing in the country. Almost any successor would probably be welcomed by the markets. However we would be cautious about seeing Ramaphosa as the knight in shining armour. He is badly damaged by his link to the Marikana killings (unfair as that may be) and he has not yet established a significant constituency within the ANC. The fact that he is a rich man can play both ways; it gives him resources to build his case but it makes him vulnerable to accusations of conspicuous consumption and being out of touch with common people. It is also inescapably true that his wealth has been accumulated more as a result of ‘empowerment deals’, the accumulation of large slices of equity, rather than the involvement in any of the underlying activities (mining, banking, health care etc).

More than anything we must keep front of mind that much ANC policy and politics is determined in the forums of the party – long in advance of such policies and politics becoming law and regulation. The particular character of leaders makes a difference, but in the South African case, not as big a difference as it might elsewhere.

 

The noise around land reform is (partly) bluster designed to get commercial agriculture to act voluntarily

Urging Commercial farmers to take voluntary steps ‘advancing the transformation project in the agriculture sector’, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said “change that is imposed is more painful” – Business Day 14/08/2014.  Mantashe told attendees at a conference on land reform and food production that land reform was necessary if South Africa was to deal with the “ugly past of racial land dispossession of black people” and that farmers must never allow themselves “to be victims of change” – Business Day ibid.

So what?

We previously described in some detail some of the legislative initiatives around land reform and one of the points we made about assessing the risks associated with the land reform initiative is reinforced by Gwede Mantashe’s choice of words.

The ANC feels keenly its failure to successfully complete a significant process of land reform and redress – and is, in part, being punished for that failure by the (still slight) electoral traction achieved by the ostensibly more radical Economic Freedom Fighters on their debut in the general election on May 7 2014.

However, the ANC feels, at least as keenly, the threats to investment that would result if property rights were ever threatened by an unruly and uncertain ‘land reform’ process à la Zimbabwe.

Commercial farming does not have the handy (from the ANC’s point of view) equivalent to the mining sector’s mineral rights to attach to a number of ‘transformation’ objectives. The ANC would be extremely cautious about bluntly attaching a ‘licence to farm’ (or in fact a ‘licence to operate any business’) directly to ‘transformation objectives’. There is a line beyond which such rights and obligations could constitute a nationalisation in fact and might be both unconstitutional and, certainly, a serious barrier to future investment.

Thus the ANC, in the form of its secretary general, is snapping at the heels of domestic commercial agriculture, attempting to herd it towards the ‘transformation’ objective, putting the argument that this is the national good, but hinting that a bite on the ankle could be the laggard’s reward. It is an open question as to whether farmers would respond to such incentives with greater compliance or with resistance, both covert and overt. However, for now, we think the ANC’s (and therefore government’s) land reform bark is worse than its bite.

 

Bits and pieces

  • Jacob Zuma put out a report last week which he and his spokespeople claim is a satisfactory response to the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s, “Secure in Comfort” report into the upgrades to the President’s private Nkandla residence in which she finds several faults with the President’s actions and inactions. The delay, over many months, of a response from Jacob Zuma to Thuli Madonsela was ostensibly as a result of him (Zuma) awaiting a report from the Special Investigating Unit. However, on Friday a spokesperson for the Public Protector said Zuma’s report was not a response, adequate or otherwise, to Secure in Comfort. ““That means a document that comments on the public protector’s report or indicates action taken or to be taken to implement remedial action in compliance with section 3(5) of the Executive Members Ethics Act must still be submitted to Parliament by the president” – my emphasis added.
  • Jacob Zuma’s team is preparing to hang expense overruns and incorrect categorisation of some items as ‘security related’ on Jacob Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya. The Mail and Guardian reports that the “Special Investigating Unit has lodged a R155-million claim against Makhanya” – 15/08/2014.
  • And in other news Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol who was shouldered with the blame for the landing of a large private wedding party at a secure military base by the close Zuma allies and business partners the Gupta brothers and family last year, was nominated by Jacob Zuma as Ambassador to The Hague. In August last year, Koloane pleaded guilty to all charges relating to his involvement in authorising the controversial landing of the jet.
  • It’s not (just) idle mischief putting these bullets together. If the President’s own actions around his accumulation of personal assets and special favours to his friends can impact on the formal judicial, disciplinary and constitutional oversight functions, if his party can go to extreme lengths to protect him from the consequences of his actions in accumulating personal wealth and influence, it is unlikely that private companies will be trustful of, or willingly and enthusiastically compliant with, the ‘transformation’ agenda emerging from the state, government and party he leads. Ultimately the private sector needs to believe that the value of its various social obligations ends up benefiting those who need the assistance the most. This is the price the private sector seems prepared to pay for stability and growth. Any sense that the public purse is hijacked or that equity transfers and affirmative action obligations have become a kind of asset that can be hoarded and dispensed as patronage by the politically powerful will cause the ‘transformation’ objective – and much else – to fail.

 

11/08/2014

‘Cabinet leaning to break-up Eskom’ – Business Day 05/08/2014 … I would be extremely surprised

Business Day reported that the idea of breaking up Eskom and privatising some of its power stations “is starting to gain traction in government circles, as a team of cabinet ministers and government officials seeks ways to alleviate the company’s financial crisis and restructure its business” – Business Day 05/08/2014.

The governing ANC’s alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) vowed the next day to fight any such privatisation “to the bitter end” arguing that electricity price inflation, driven by the ‘commercialisation’ of the utility in the first place, was “one of the key constraints” on economic growth and an important reason South Africa “is not creating decent jobs the country so desperately needs” (catch the full August 6 Cosatu statement here.)

On the same day Lynne Brown, the Minister of Public Enterprises, said “I want to indicate that there is a portfolio of options for the interministerial task team to consider. To my knowledge Cabinet has not discussed the matter of privatisation and there is no need to unnecessarily raise temperatures around this matter” – City Press Online, 06/08/2014. The ‘task team’ to which she refers was described (in the same story) as “representing energy, public enterprises and the treasury” and further, that the findings of the team had not yet been made public.

So what?

This is, supposedly, a defining issue for the ruling faction of the ANC and its allies in Cosatu and the SACP. Much of the motivation for backing Jacob Zuma (and ousting Thabo Mbeki) was – apparently – that Mbeki’s policies were a species of Thatcherism (especially the plan to privatise the major state utilities). The alliance backing Jacob Zuma defined its historical mission as the combating of this “1996 class project”, a catch-all phrase for neoliberalism, fiscal rectitude and the ‘Washington Consensus’.

It might well be true that the breaking up and privatisation of Eskom is an urgent necessity – or even a precondition for recovery from our dire economic state – but it is a political nonstarter, requiring the complete breakup of the alliance of groups that hold power, and is therefore vanishingly unlikely to happen, even symbolically.

 

National Prosecuting Authority in free fall and intelligence services are extensively deployed on behalf of senior politicians and criminals – and the storm is beginning to batter against the South African Revenue Service – this is as serious and urgent as it is confusing and complicated

There is an on-going meltdown at the heart of the criminal justice system which is increasing risks in doing business with, or in, the areas administered by the South African state.

Here are only a few of the most recent visible features of the (complex and confusing) disintegration:

  • Jacob Zuma has asked the National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana to give reasons why he should not be suspended. The apparent motivation is that Nxasana has problems associated with his security clearance (owing to his brushes with the law, including a murder charge, when he was a younger man). However, almost all the coverage and analysis suggests that the ‘real reason’ is Nxasana has pursued investigations of key Zuma allies in the NPA and Crime Intelligence Division of the South African Police Service and his (Nxasana’s) actions threaten to lead, eventually, to fraud and corruption charges being reinstated against Jacob Zuma.
  • Award winning journalist Mzilikazi wa Africa published his memoir last week which includes a detailed account of how Jacob Zuma and his allies vigorously undermined the credibility of the first National Director of Public Persecutions Bulelani Ngcuka by spreading the false information that he (Ngcuka) was an apartheid spy.(See an interesting examination of this thread from Business Day 07/08/2014 here.) In here is the source code of much of the chaos in the prosecuting authority and intelligence service: Bulelani Ngcuka led the original investigation into the allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering against the then Deputy President Zuma, concluding that there was “prima facie” evidence that Zuma was guilty, but not enough to win in court – a statement to which Zuma, not unreasonably, strongly objected.
  •  “Sex, SARS and rogue spies” announced the front page headline in City Press yesterday (10/08/2014). The accompanying stories allege that senior SARS official, Johan van Loggenberg, has been the subject of a ‘honey trap’ operation by the State Security Agency “Special Operations Unit”. The story is Byzantine, but the important bit is the detailed allegation that the secret spy unit operating against van Loggenberg has also been used to discredit and smear a ‘anti-Zuma’ camp in the NPA and in Crime Intelligence. Bizarrely, the Special Operations Unit supposedly includes drug dealer Glen Agliotti.  (Read some of this story here and here … if you have the time or the patience.)

So what?

This level of political and criminal infiltration into key state institutions and functions, especially of the security services, the prosecuting authority and the South African Revenue Service raises real questions about judicial, regulatory and legislative certainty in the operating and investment environment. Uncertainty about the application of law, the integrity of the criminal justice system and the functioning of the revenue service must all be considered by anyone wanting to invest in South Africa or in assets regulated by South African institutions of state and law. Frankly, given the deep connections between the instability in these key sectors of the South Africa state and the rise to power of Jacob Zuma I am pessimistic that we have the capacity to fix this problem while the current administration is still in power.

The National Prosecuting Authority has appointed highly respected retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob to head an inquiry, or ‘fact finding mission’ into its dysfunctional state. Unfortunately Yacoob almost immediately (on Thursday last week while speaking at a workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand) happened to mention that he would have “set aside” the judgement that found Jacob Zuma not guilty of rape in 2006, because he would have put less emphasis on the alleged victim’s sexual history – see here. An outraged African National Congress said it learned of Yacoob’s comments “with shock and dismay” saying they “opened old wounds” and were “an attack on  principles of our jurisprudence and the judiciary.” Yacoob attempted to clarify his comments here but either way he is no longer likely to be the instrument that cleans up the National Prosecuting Authority.

 

 

Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission today as succession debate begins

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain today at the Marikana Commission what he meant when emailed other senior Lonmin managers just before the August 12 2012 killing of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana and said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”.

So what?

It is unlikely that the Commission will find anything untoward in Rampahosa’s messages. He was, after all, doing nothing other than responding to the growing violence of the strikers and Lonmin’s increasing anxiety about the strike. We are of the view that there is some political harm done Ramaphosa by his identification with mine management and government – and the police killing of the 34 mineworkers. There is a considerable degree of unease within the broad structures of the ANC and the electorate about the Marikana killings. The ANC is obliged to stand with its Deputy President on this matter, but it can’t be comfortable. This will play against Ramaphosa (although perhaps not decisively) in the coming succession contest in the ANC.

 

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Chairwoman of the African Union, fresh from pride of place at the US-Africa summit in Washington announced yesterday that she was undecided as to whether to stand for a second term in the AU (her current term expires in 2014 2016) This is inevitably raising questions about whether she will compete with Ramaphosa to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the country.

So what?

She is in the running – and is clean and capable. She is perhaps more of an insider in the ANC’s power elite than Cyril Ramaphosa and her winning this race might mean (unwelcome) continuities with the current administration. It’s too early to call it one way or another, but the ANC Women’s League has indicated that it could back Dlamini-Zuma (or Baleka Mbete) while the Gauteng ANC has indicated it could back Ramaphosa.  Officially succession would only take place after elections in 2019, but there are constant rumours that Jacob Zuma might want to retire early (or be forced to do so due to failing health). An early retirement of Jacob Zuma would probably be a significant positive for perceptions about South African political risk, but the specific circumstances of such a move would determine whether it would, in fact, be positive, negative or natural.

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

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

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

 

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

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

So what

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

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

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

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

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

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

To restate our oft restated view on this matter:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

The key points worth reiterating here are:

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

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

 

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

Industrial relations

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

The cycle meets a secular trend

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

NUMSA’s political ambitions coming to the fore

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

The risks to the real economy remain large

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

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

SA industrial relations: The cycle meets the secular trend

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

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

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

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

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

Cautionary notes

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

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

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

The real economy 

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

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

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

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

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

Numsa 1 Numsa 2 Numsa 3 Numsa 4

 

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

Platinum strike finally over

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

Zuma sick and tired

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTES (with explanatory links):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SONA debate, Malema response, expulsion and EFF walkout

The fractious debate that followed …

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

Land expropriation, South African style

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

 

Below are my comments about Sunday’s cabinet announcement followed by my comments about the elections from a week or so earlier – a sort of trip back in time.

In both cases the originals were written under tight deadlines and in both cases my initial impressions have been moderated by time, drifting towards the insipid end of the spectrum.

But for those who might be interested these were my first, slightly more vivid, impressions …

(Sent out 06h00 Monday 26th May):

Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet 2014 – through a glass darkly

From a narrow ‘financial market’ perspective the Cabinet announcement by Jacob Zuma last night was disappointing and confusing.

(Note: it would be possible to find much good in this Cabinet and the strategy it implies, but because the announcement was so late – about 1900 hours last night – I have decided to focus almost exclusively on the risks and problems, mostly because they dominate. Apologies if this makes me sound whiny.)

Cyril Ramaphosa

The appointment is finally made. It’s largely a good thing from a financial market perspective – given his understanding of how business works. However, the damage done him by his comments before the Marikana massacre should not be underestimated (he called for greater police action against strikers – see here) and his power within the ANC should not be over-estimated (he has, essentially, played hand-maiden to Jacob Zuma from assuming office of the ANC deputy president at Mangaung in December 2013). However, Ramaphosa was a clever and powerful negotiator for the ANC at Codesa I and II. It is likely that Ramaphosa’s authority and influence will gradually increase in the next few years, possibly leading to his ascension to the ANC’s and the country’s presidency.

Nhlanhla Nene – Minister of Finance

Nene became Deputy Minister of Finance in November 2008 and served in that role till May 2014. He is technically competent and liked by the few in the markets and in business who have dealt with him. As chairman of parliament’s finance committee Nene urged in October 2008 that “utmost care should be taken that parliament does not undermine macroeconomic stability” – see here for that reference.

Issues, problems and basis for assessment

Nene is the ‘continuity candidate’ in the absence of Pravin Gordhan – but it is this absence that increases uncertainty. Nene is not well known in the markets and he is particularly ‘lightweight’ politically in terms of his seniority and influence in the ANC (as opposed to his predecessors Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan).

This becomes more of a problem when GDP growth is as sluggish as it is in South Africa and when the President himself summarises his intentions (as he did prefacing his cabinet announcement): “I announced on Saturday that we have entered the second phase of our transition to a national democratic society. I also said this would be a radical phase of socio-economic transformation.”

One must assume such “a radical phase of socio-economic transformation” would put even greater spending pressures on the Finance Minister. Gordhan (and before that Trevor Manuel) had proven levels of toughness and authority in holding the fiscal line – although at least in Manuel’s case the ‘markets’ were nervous for some time after his appointment in 1996 (and Gordhan was not, initially on the ANC NEC when he was appointed).

The problem is made worse by the fact that DTI and EDD are unchanged

One of my early concerns with Zuma’s first Cabinet in 2009 was that it distributed economic policy-making power around government apparently (to me) as a gift to the SACP and Cosatu for having backed Jacob Zuma in his struggle against Mbeki. Thus Rob Davies in DTI and Ebrahim Patel in EDD have been left in place in yesterday’s cabinet announcement. As it turned out after 2009 Pravin Gordhan was eventually able to establish the Department of Finance as the centre of government’s economic policy-making function. Appointing Nhlanhla Nene to head the Treasury while leaving the other (now more experienced) economic Tsars in place rather reawakens the original concern.

If public sector wages and public service productivity are key variables for balancing government books …

The removal of independent and powerful Lindiwe Sisulu to the backwaters of Human Settlements (formally housing) and her replacement with the quiet and self-effacing Collins Chabane, previously of monitoring and evaluation in the Presidency, is another cause for concern. Again, he is admired and liked and should be given the chance to rise to the challenge of this key portfolio, but my first take is this is another weak appointment. The major negotiations for 3-year wage agreements in the public sector come up for renewal this year. I would have preferred someone in this post who had the political weight to stand up to the public sector unions (and various other political interests).

The key idea seems to be to house the NDP in a politically beefed up Presidency

The new ‘centre’ of economic policy making will actually be within the Presidency where Zuma has appointed Jeff Radebe as a sort of Prime Minister of the National Development Plan into which he (Zuma) has collapsed performance and monitoring as well as ‘youth development’.

Radebe swings a lot of weight – and a more general comment is that Jacob Zuma has made weak appointments throughout his cabinet but has very significantly strengthened his own office. There are several problems with this, but I will mention only that Jeff Radebe has never played a role where he has been required to establish or defend (or even understand) macro-economic policy stability, but he has played the role of party fixer, strongman and bully in the ANC. If these talents can be deployed in giving flesh to the NDP bones that will be a good thing.

Supply-side misery

The Governor of the South African Reserve Bank consistently has expressed concern about various ‘supply side’ constraints (see here for the Monetary Policy Committee statement of May 22nd).

These constraints include energy prices, labour unrest, transport bottlenecks, broadband penetration and regulation and failures in the education system among a host of issues.

So here are just a few of the appointments in this area:

Energy: After a disastrous term in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Minister Tina Joemat-Peterssen has been appointed Minister of Energy. She has been the subject of several Public Protector Investigations and she has courted a highly confrontational relationship with the fishing industry. However, she is strongly supported by Jacob Zuma. Her new department will be central to the decisions about the biggest public tender in South African history: R1-trillion worth of  nuclear power stations.

Telecommunications and Communications: The functions have been split, with the  Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele moving to Telecommunications and Postal Services. The bigger problem is how many changes have been made here, with the telecommunications industry  having expressing the hope that Minister Yunus Carrim would stay in the post and finally move towards stabilising the policy framework under which the local loop would be unbundled and the sector regulated – after a long succession of disastrous appointments. There are no grounds to be confident that Cwele is up to this task. The only grounds that we can see for the appointment is if the sector is conceived of as an extension of the country’s state intelligence function.

Communications: Ms Faith Muthambi has been appointed to head this department which will include the functions of the independent regulator Icasa, the state broadcaster SABC and government information services, the GCIS. It still needs to be assessed whether the structural change and appointments here and in telecommunications will be positive for the industry, but on the face of it is peculiar, to say the least, to group the regulator of the private sector (Icasa) with the ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’ capacity of the government and state.

(See here for the eviscerating comments on the ‘communications’ decisions in the cabinet from the SOS Coalition (‘trade unions, community media and content producers hoping to support quality public broadcasting’).

Education, transport and labour: It can have escaped no-one concerned with South Africa’s economic development that these functions of government are failing or significantly underperforming. But Jacob Zuma has left education and training with Blade Nzimande, basic education with Angie Motshekga (which, btw, some NGO’s and the DA reckon is a good thing), transport with Dipuo Peters and labour with Mildred Oliphant.

(Because I don’t know him that well, I didn’t discuss Adv Ngoako Ramathlodi as mining minister in that note. But here  is the new minister in 2011 essentially arguing that the South African constitution was a compromise from weakness on the ANC’s part and the the courts need to passop stepping on toes of government, the ANC and the Executive’s …. and here is constitutional expert Pierre De Vos apoplectic response to Ramatlhodi’s disturbing views.)

Full Cabinet

(The Deputy President is Cyril Ramaphosa)

1. The Minister in the Presidency is Mr Jeff Radebe.

2. The Minister of Women in the Presidency is Ms Susan Shabangu.

3. The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services is Mr Michael Masutha.

4. The Minister of Public Service and Administration is Mr Collins Chabane.

5. The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans is Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

6. The Minister of Home Affairs is Mr Malusi Gigaba.

7. The Minister of Environmental Affairs is Ms Edna Molewa.

8. The Minister of State Security is Mr David Mahlobo.

9. The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services is Dr Siyabonga Cwele.

10. The Minister of Police is Mr Nkosinathi Nhleko.

11. The Minister of Trade and Industry is Dr Rob Davies.

12. The Minister of Finance is Mr Nhlanhla Nene.

13. The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is Mr Senzeni Zokwana.

14. The Minister of Water and Sanitation is Ms Nomvula Mokonyane.

15. The Minister of Basic Education is Ms Angie Motshekga.

16. The Minister of Health is Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

17. The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

18. The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform is Mr Gugile Nkwinti.

19. The Minister of Higher Education and Training is Dr Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande.

20. The Minister of Economic Development is Mr Ebrahim Patel.

21. The Minister of Transport is Ms Dipuo Peters.

22. The Minister of Mineral Resources is Adv Ngoako Ramathlodi.

23. The Minister of Social Development is Ms Bathabile Dlamini.

24. The Minister of Public Enterprises is Ms Lyn Brown.

25. The Minister of Sport and Recreation is Mr Fikile Mbalula.

26. The Minister of Labour is Ms Mildred Oliphant.

27. The Minister of Arts and Culture is Mr Nathi Mthethwa.

28. The Minister of Public Works is Mr Thulas Nxesi.

29. The Minister of Small Business Development is Ms Lindiwe Zulu.

30. The Minister of Energy is Ms Tina Joemat-Peterssen.

31. The Minister of Science and Technology is Ms Naledi Pandor.

32. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs is Mr Pravin Gordhan.

33. The Minister of Communications is Ms Faith Muthambi.

34. The Minister of Human Settlements is Ms Lindiwe Sisulu.

35. The Minister of Tourism is Mr Derek Hanekom.

ends ….

 

(And then this, sent out Monday 12 May 06h30)

Election 2014 results

South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced the following election results for the country’s National Assembly on Saturday 10 May 2014:

Elections1

The ANC has 15 fewer National Assembly seats and the DA 22 more than they achieved in the 2009 election.

The provincial results followed a similar pattern, with the ANC winning 8 out of 9 provinces (with the Western Cape remaining in DA control). In three of those provinces the ANC increased its majority (Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape – and increasing its percentage of the vote in the Western Cape) and in five provinces the ANC majority was reduced.

ANC drop more significant in Gauteng and some other major cities

The most significant reduction in ANC support occurred in Gauteng, the country’s economic and industrial heartland and the province with the highest population and highest population density. In the provincial poll in Gauteng the ANC fell 10.45% to 53.59% from 64.04% in the 2009 election.

In the table below the trend is clearly revealed in the three major Gauteng metropolitan areas and is reproduced to some degree in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape:

 

Elections2

 

(As an aside, News24’s coverage of the election as well as it’s app from which the above is a cut-and-paste was truly excellent –  it’s set the new gold standard for election coverage in South Africa. To get a taste of that, visit here.)

‘Racial voting’ patterns persist

A feature of South African voting trends is that, in general, the parties have quite distinct racial or ethnic support bases.

This trend clearly persists (from City Press 11/05/2014)

Elections3

 

So what?

A close examination of ward data changes between 2009 and today reveals that there is a blurring of the racial voting patterns in Gauteng’s metropolitan areas – but only to a limited degree and only in the most developed urban centres. The persistence of ‘racialised’ voting patterns is unsurprising given the country’s history and the persistence of apartheid’s spacial planning and economic, demographic and cultural disparities in the present. The implication is that party support patterns are as suborn and persistent as other social patterns. From a financial market perspective this can mean both that the political environment is stable and predictable but also that such secure incumbency is likely to gradually increase patronage and complacency.

(You might want to temper these conclusion with the views of Pallo Jordan who wrote in a Business Day column: “Racial interpretations of voter behaviour might be very comforting for analysts who confuse public manifestations of discontent with the rejection of the governing party. Unless the coloured voters of the Northern Cape are being included in the “racial solidarity” African voters are accused of, their political choices can only be explained in terms of attractive policies”. I think Jordan’s argument is taking on something different to the points I make above, but I include them – Jordan’s comments – here in case I am missing something.)

The main implications: government, the ANC, the NDP, the middle ground and the EFF

These are, in my opinion, the main financial market implications of the election:

  • The result is generally financial market positive: it leaves the ANC with a secure enough majority to be able continue ‘grasping the nettle’ of macro-economic policy stability, including fiscal consolidation.
  • However, there may be just enough voter admonishment implicit in the ANC’s loss of 15 National Assembly seats and the more dizzying drops in the major metropolitan areas to cause the party to attempt a clean-up of the behaviour of some of its top leaders.
  • My reading of the relative ANC losses in the main urban centres of Gauteng is that these were only partly driven by the introduction of unpopular e-tolling gantries in that province. A more fundamental divide is the kind of leadership Jacob Zuma has brought to the ANC: with his ‘rural big man’ characteristics, the casual diversion of public funds for the development of his Nkandla home, his backing of patriarchal legislation like the Traditional Courts Bill and his too cosy, mutually beneficial, relationships with business people like the Shaik and the Gupta families (see here and here). The most educated urban voters are the least likely to tolerate this kind of behaviour by the country’s top politician – and this is reflected in voting patterns.
  • There is very little disagreement between the ANC and the DA (and most of the smaller opposition parties, except the EFF) as to the broad outlines of economic policy. Thus the National Development Plan and a broadly stable macro-economic policy platform is the consensus of over 90% of the political establishment.
  • It has long been a feature of South African politics that ‘the real opposition’ and political contest is not in parliament, but actually within the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance itself. This alliance has not, since 1994, been less divided over economic policy. The SACP is firmly backing the Zuma government and Cosatu is in disarray, leaving the ANC/SACP to pursue the NDP and related policies.
  • While I do not think the NDP is a panacea for South Africa’s myriad economic problems, the programme’s holistic approach to economic development, it’s emphasis on improving infrastructure and its greater reliance on market mechanisms for the allocation of capital (more so than previous such policies like Asgisa, IPAP 1 & II and the New Growth Path) make it broadly financial market positive.
  • The ANC is signalling its intention to ratchet up Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action in the workplace (through legislative, regulatory, political and state spending mechanisms.) This will get loud – and will become a more central feature of the valuation of companies and economic sectors in South Africa.
  • The rise and vibrancy of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters has been, perhaps, the most notable feature of this election. Malema faces a final sequestration hearing on May 26 – and if his provisional sequestration is upheld he will be barred from being a member of parliament.
  • With or without its leader in parliament the EFF is already vigorously attempting to link up with striking platinum workers and with service delivery protesters.  This will become an increasingly noisy feature of South African politics. The upside is the ANC will probably become less ambiguous in its attitude to such strikes and protests. The downside is there will now be a parliamentary pressure group backing the radical populist policies of land seizures and mine nationalisation. My view is this is, on the whole, a healthy development. The radical populist views have been present in the ruling alliance and the society more generally since 1994 anyway. Having those views directly represented by a minority party in parliament formalises the debate and contest within the democratic and constitutional structures of the country. Of course that doesn’t mean the EFF won’t constantly attempt to take its struggle to the streets, but it does mean that the ANC will be clear on where it stands in relation to those issues.
  • All attention will now move to Jacob Zuma’s new cabinet (which will be announced soon after his inauguration – which I expect on the 24th of May) and to succession issues within the ANC.

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

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

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

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

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Herewith some of my latest news updates.

(Just as an aside before I start: I couldn’t help but smile at Richard Poplak’s seriously over-the-top take on the Nkandla report in Daily Maverick this morning: “But Madonsela has certainly nailed Zuma to history’s grimiest post—he will be forever remembered as a thief, a fool, and a Zulu man who was incapable of managing the affairs of his kraal … Jacob Zuma will not escape his fate as one of this country’s more reprehensible figures. And Nkandla will be the crown he wears as he slithers into historical ignominy” … anyone who reads this column probably realises that I am not overly enamoured of Jacob Zuma as our president, but Richard seems to think he is a sort of Vlad the Impaler in leopard skins, which I think is a metaphor too far.

… and while I am making asides did I just hear Gwede Mantashe throw Riah Phiyega under a bus for the fire pool/swimming pool confusion in the Presidential mansion? So she is going to take the fall for Nkandla and Marikana? Shem, as they say on Twitter.)

… anyway:

  • South Africa’s Public Protector ruled that President Jacob Zuma improperly used state funds to upgrade his Nkandla homestead and “failed to act in protection of state resources”.
  • The Public Protector said Mr Zuma’s behaviour amounted to misconduct, but that she couldn’t conclude that the president had misled parliament. He will have to repay some of the funds.
  • The report is negative for the ANC and will cost it votes in the May general election.
  •  Trevor Manuel’s exit from parliament has not been quite as smooth and painless as it first appeared. He will end up as a public critic of the ANC, but not, as yet, in an opposition party.
  • A thickening seam of discontent and activism opposed to growing government intervention in the economy is beginning to reveal itself in the South African financial press.
Zuma deemed guilty of misconduct, but not of misleading parliament

After a 28-month investigation, South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced that President Jacob Zuma and his family had improperly benefited from upgrades to his private Nkandla home worth around ZAR 246mn. “Expenditure on Nkandla was excessive,” Ms Madonsela said and involved the “misappropriation of funds”.

Ms Madonsela said President Zuma knew of the scale of the Nkandla project and “failed to act in protection of state resources”, allowing extensive upgrades beyond security. She explicitly said Mr Zuma’s failure to protect the state’s interests during this saga amounted to “misconduct”, that his failure to protect state resources was a “violation” (of what we are not exactly sure yet) and that his conduct had been inconsistent with the constitution. However, she said that he did not wilfully mislead parliament on the matter. That would have been a criminal offence.

Mr Zuma will now have to respond to these findings to parliament within 14 days and repay some of the misappropriated funds. It doesn’t look like anyone will go to prison or be forced to resign and the actual practicalities of the crisis are not desperately serious for the ANC and President Zuma (or rather not in a new way … they were already quite serious in terms of general respect for the integrity of the President.)

So what?

Ms Madonsela recently described the function of the Public Protector as being to “curb excesses in the exercise of state power and control over state resources”. However, there is some confusion as to the status of her rulings and consequent recommendations to the president for remedial action.

Getting President Zuma to take remedial action against himself for the misuse of public money would seem like something of a non-starter. Already, ex-police chief Bheki Cele, former minister Dina Pule and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – all of whom had adverse findings against them by Ms Madonsela – have found their way onto the ANC’s election list.

Still, this is very much a negative for the African National Congress (ANC) – even more so than the general public expected, though probably not more than the ANC expected. The party knew the report was going to be damaging and has been stiffening its spine for some time, weighing up the costs of attacking Ms Madonsela – an illegal act – or taking it on the chin.

The party will lose votes as a result of this, but we think it was losing votes anyway because of Mr Zuma’s general probity (please see our most recent rough guide overleaf for an idea of how we think support is shaping up). Mr Zuma’s position in the ANC will be weakened (but remember he is strong in the sense that he controls the majority of powerful ANC structures).

Still, the brand value of the ANC is being damaged and this is likely to trigger a self-correcting mechanism. While the changes are still 40-60 against, we think a rescue mission by the party’s ‘old guard’ is now more likely  and that it might successfully mange to shift Mr Zuma aside by around 2016 (a sufficiently strong group just needs to emerge that can cut him a deal with proper guarantees). Obviously the worse the ANC does at the polls, the more the under performance is ascribed to the character and probity of the president … the more likely it is that such a group emerges and coheres to a degree that it is able to offer any enforceable guarantees.

votelates

Trevor Manuel: Concealed weapons

Last week, warm tributes were paid to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel as he took his leave of parliament and it appeared that his sometimes fractious relationship with his party and cabinet colleagues would, for once, be smoothed over. However, in a high-profile Sunday Times interview, he proceeded to warn that “attacks on public bodies, such as the Public Protector and the courts, would weaken these institutions — and that democracy would then battle to survive”. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mathanshe responded sharply to Mr Manuel, saying: “We do not attack the public Protector, but criticise her where we feel we should … Trevor refuses to participate in the activities of the ANC NEC, and if you refuse such, you want to be a free agent.”

So what?

Trevor Manuel has been something of a ‘market darling’ and (according to himself and in his own words) the rand “fell out of bed” when the news broke that he had resigned after Thabo Mbeki had been recalled on 22 September 2008 (The Zuma Years, Richard Calland, August 2013, Zebra Press … read it, it really is quite good!!). There is no love lost between the country’s longest-serving finance minister and architect of the National Development Plan (NDP) and the incumbent leadership of his party.

In a coded farewell speech in parliament, he quoted a seemingly benign passage from a work by historian Tony Judt: “For thirty years, we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.” There were knowing nods all around, but Mr Manuel usefully forgot to mention the title of the book he was quoting, Ill Fares the Land. We expect Mr Manuel to emerge as a critic of the ANC in its present form, although he is unlikely to join any of the existing opposition parties.

Mr Manuel was also interviewed by the Business Times, in which he criticised the short-sighted way in which some trade unions were approaching negotiations, saying it has sparked a “race to the bottom”. He accused National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) General Secretary Irvin Jim, who has constantly attacked the NDP, of “speaking a lot of rubbish”.

Mining companies told to “get off their knees” and stop sucking up to government

Tension in the mining sector under the twin pressures of serious labour instability and increasing government regulatory pressure is causing unusual fractures and pressures, according to Business Day and the Sunday Times, provoking something of a growing campaign of activism in some sectors of the ‘private-sector intelligentsia’, for want of a better term. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the tension (it gets complicated, but stick with it):

  • Eight weeks ago, a respected Chamber of Mines negotiator in the platinum strike (now in its eighth week), Elize Strydom, said Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) mediators in negotiations between employers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) had ”showed an absolute lack of economic acumen” by suggesting companies meet the AMCU’s wage demands “half way”. The mediators had suggested they accept a rise of 25-30% for entry-level miners with basic pay of ZAR 5,700 (the AMCU had demanded ZAR 12,500 a month, a rise of 120%, the companies had offered 8.5%).
  • Ms Strydom (and the Chamber) were immediately attacked by the CCMA and accused of ‘‘white-anting” the mediation process. The CCMA insisted the Chamber either apologise or endorse Ms Strydom’s comments. If the Chamber did endorse Ms Strydom, in the words of the CCMA, it would indicate that the Chamber clearly had “no faith in the institution that is made available by the state and which is accepted by all social partners in other economic sectors”.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce says in his Thick End of the Wedge column this week: “But the mines did nothing. Until, that is, they flung themselves into the arms of the state and savaged Strydom for what she had said … A depressing scene.” Mr Bruce’s comments, bitterly critical of the Chamber and the mining firms, underpin Rob Rose’s column in the Sunday Times, in which he says: “So, when some maverick breaks the conspiracy of silence, it’s no surprise that there’s a hullabaloo of outrage. Spin doctors reel blindly … the gutless Chamber of Mines, and the even more enfeebled legion of platinum CEOs [fail to take a stand]. Now, this is why this issue is so important: the platinum industry is on a precipice. Workers have been on strike since January 23 and the mines have lost billions in revenue and even more in terms of international investment goodwill.”
  • Also in the Sunday Times, a report on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendment bill says “the ANC rushed through controversial changes … that opposition parties feel will create further uncertainty in the mining sector.” The article notes that the new regulations will give government the right to a free stake of up to 20% in any new oil and gas projects, with a right to acquire the rest at an “agreed price”. The story quotes the Democratic Alliance’s James Lorimer as saying that only “cronies, comrades and cousins” would benefit from the bill, which he said would “severely damage” the industry. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said critics were resisting change and transformation, “representing white minority interests” and “wanting to sell the country’s natural resources to the highest foreign bidder”.

So what?

The Chamber of Mines said that “while further work is required on developing the regulations that will help give effect to the MPRDA Amendment Act, the chamber is firmly of the view that through this problem solving process, greater regulatory certainty is emerging for the mining sector.” Obviously, for the Chamber and the companies engaged in negotiating the details of legislation and regulation with government, or engaged in the constitutionally created structures of the labour market, there is no upside in attacking the government or the institutional framework. Equally obviously, key sections of the financial press disagree and are essentially sounding a call to arms and arguing that the growing institutional, regulatory and legislative hostility to the private sector is becoming a crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

My reasoning includes the following supporting conjectures:

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

I have been on the road without respite for close to 4 weeks … so here is brief selection of some of my news commentary over the last few weeks, just to show that I am alive and working, albeit a little frenetically. Apologies for the out of date bits and the bits that history has caught up on already.

  • Terror attack in Nairobi is the leading-edge of an expanding band across West, North and East Africa
  • The conflict in Cosatu is serious for financial markets for several reasons, and while there are some narrow paths out of the quagmire it is increasingly unlikely that these will be the roads travelled by the incumbent leadership of the Ruling Alliance
  • The mining regulatory instability is the tip of an iceberg of hostile policy that investors need to start putting at the centre of their vision.

Nairobi terror attack part of a developing African front

The death toll in an attack on a shopping mall in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, rose to 59 by the time of writing this morning. The attack began on Saturday morning and appears to have been carried out by an international unit affiliated to Somali’s al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab movement and is retaliation for Kenya deployment of 4000 troops to back the Somali government against the rebel army. On the same weekend 80 people were killed in Northeast Nigeria in a series of Boko Haram attacks.

So what?

al-Shabaab, joins Mali’s AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Nigeria’s Boko Haram and similar movement in Tunisia and Algeria in a thickening arc (across the whole of West, North and East Africa) of a specific al-Qaeda franchised brand of jihadist rebellion linked to the Wahabi or Salafi traditions that have their origin in Saudi Arabia. This arc of organisations is likely to play a significantly destabilising role, pushing both North and South in the years ahead. The jihadists will be looking for equivalents of Chechnya and Afghanistan as safe ground on which to train and equip international brigades (as they did in Mali up until the French intervened in January this year but might be still doing in territory outside of government and French control) and world powers will be looking to stop them. This will become an increasingly important element of investment decision across the whole band of countries affected. Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda are not necessarily mortally injured by events like the one at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi (that is still on-going as I write this) but the signal is that we need to have this matter more central in our assessments of the region.

 

Cosatu ructions have potentially serious implications for investors

The trade union ally of the ruling African National Congress continues to suffer a debilitating leadership struggle.  Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee has received letters from the requisite quorum of unions insisting that a special congress of the federation be held. The weekly newspapers are full of speculation as to whether such a congress would reinstate Zwelinzima Vavi and get rid of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, deputy secretary general Bheki Ntshalintshali; and Cosatu’s second deputy president Zingiswa Losi – who are Vavi’s main foes and Zuma’s main friends (simplification alert) amongst Cosatu’s NOBs (National Office Bearers).

So what?

It is possible that Sdumo Dlamini will attempt to block the special congress by arguing that several administrative and technical barriers (time, money and the upcoming national elections) make it too difficult to hold. This is what is at stake:

  • Based on previous voting patterns a special congress of Cosatu is likely to reinstate Vavi and it is conceivable that such a congress could expel the ANC and SACP loyalists from the federation’s top structure.
  • However an alternative outcome could be the reinstatement of Vavi, and the recovery of a fragile unity in the federation prior to next year’s election. This would require the top ANC leadership and its allies in Cosatu backing off their attempts to shaft Vavi. It appears this requirement would be difficult for the Zuma leadership of The Alliance to meet. Zuma’s leadership is increasingly characterised by a (essentially weak) reliance on force and the driving out of critics – as opposed to (an essentially strong) ability to provide leadership and establish hegemony over an unruly and contested alliance of forces.
  • Thus if the ruling group fails to find an accommodation with Vavi it is a real possibility that Vavi and his allies will be forced out of Cosatu. This result could be catastrophic for both the ANC and for industrial relations stability as a whole. Numsa would go with Vavi and Numsa would have the capacity to compete successfully with a host of other Cosatu unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers (Num). The disastrous consequences of the contest between Num and Amcu could be a template for similar contests between Numsa and several other Cosatu unions.
  • A split Cosatu could conceivable lead to the formation of a new ‘worker’ or ‘left’ political party or alliance that could, ultimately, challenge the ANC at the polls. There are a number of reasons why The Alliance has maintained its integrity for so long – and generally those who have been expelled or who have left of their own volition have shrivelled in the cold. However this conflict in Cosatu, driven as it is by the Zuma leadership’s attempt to supress criticism of corruption and dissent about policy, is changing the equation.
  • Vavi and his allies accuse the Zuma leadership of attempting to make Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC. It seems to me that this accusation is essentially correct and that the solution that would work best for the ANC and for industrial relations (in the short to medium term) would be to allow Cosatu to make its own decision about leadership at a special congress.

 

Mining regulatory instability is the tip of an iceberg of hostile policy

To understand how increasingly hostile is the stance of government towards business in South Africa, listen to the words of Chamber of Mines head Bheki Sibiya talking about the proposed mining law amendments after public hearings on the matter ended last week (in the Sunday Times, 22/09/2013 and Business Day of 20/09/2013).

He points out that the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill of 2013 intends to significantly empower the minister to intervene in the sector – specifically with regard to ownership and pricing. “Mining is long term. Once one is not so sure about one’s rights in the long term, one would rather say let’s cut our losses now. This is what investors will do … If pricing is not going to be decided by the markets but by some individual, then when you do your projections you’re shooting in the dark” he said.

Sibiya specifically bemoans the recent process of business engagement in various amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. In those cases years of proposals were essentially ignored by government and it (government) went ahead with what it wanted and what its alliance partner Cosatu wanted.

Business Day took these observations a little further this morning when it republished a quote from last week by Thami ka Plaatje, head of research at the ANC and an adviser to Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu: “We are still wresting control from the white capitalist economy. We still reel under the oppressive yoke of all-pervading oligopolistic and monopolistic forms of the white economy.”

So what?

Regulation and policy in a complex, modern, small and open economy like South Africa’s requires a degree of sophistication that seems increasingly absent from this government. Policy and political risk is inevitably escalating as a government with a diminishing capacity develops an expanding agenda.

…. and then, from even further back, for those with an interest in ancient history …. like 4 weeks ago:

 

  • Strike wave breaks across the country – there are both normal and abnormal drivers
  • Alliance Summit – ANC’s inevitable schizophrenia on economic policy is leaving everyone dissatisfied, The tension is evident in mining minister Shabangu’s comments in Australia versus deputy president Motlanthe’s efforts at the Mining Lekgotla in Johannesburg
  • The criminal justice system is ever more appropriately named 
  • Editor in hiding from GuptaTV – comic relief tinged with embarrassment

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 probably as high as 30% according to Adrian Hammond, gold analyst on the BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities) wants a 150% increase but has not announced that it intends to strike, and nor have Solidarity and Uasa.

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

So what?

We have 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” – SA Politics, 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, according to Adrian Hammond BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities gold analyst – see his note “Wage Negotiations – The Final Round? August 28 2013) Amcu must attempt to force mines out of the central bargaining process by ensuring that no central agreement can achieve a sustainable settlement at the local mine or company level.

Lock-out

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

 

Alliance Summit

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

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that

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

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

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

“bold forms of state intervention, including through:

  • Financial regulation and control;
  • Progressive and redistributive taxation
  • Wage and income policies and progressive competition policies that promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.
  • A well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy
  • Increased state ownership and control in strategic sectors, where deemed appropriate on the balance of evidence,
  • and the more effective use of state-owned enterprises

So what?

The Alliance Summit used all the right language to keep the different elements of the alliance together but said nothing that might reassure spooked investors. The opposite is probably true. Just look at the words: “progressive and redistributive taxation”, “well-resourced state-led industrial and trade policy”, “increased state ownership” and “wage and income policies … that … promote decent work, growth and address poverty and inequality.” This is not the language that Kgalema Motlanthe used as he attempted to pacify investors at the presidential mining lekgotla in Johannesburg last week, but it is precisely the atmosphere of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s words at the Africa Down Under mining conference Perth, Western Australia, where she said investors had to “moderate” the rates of return they expected to earn on their investments so as to allow for the social expenditures that need to be made (Business Day August 28). The ANC and government are increasingly schizophrenic in their attempts to keep everyone (constituents, allies and investors) happy. In trying to keep everyone happy the ANC and the government seem more likely to achieve generalised dissatisfaction.

 

Criminal justice system appropriately named

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

So what

This might look like a circus but there is a darker element to the state of the criminal justice system than is not immediately obvious in these comical stories. In the Sunday Independent, journalist Nathi Oliphant writes about the security and justice sector: “President Jacob Zuma has unflinchingly stuck to his guns in promoting ‘his own ’into key positions”. The security apparatuses and the criminal justice system more generally has been profoundly weakened by political interference and the dismaying newspaper headlines about criminality amongst magistrates and senior police generals is just the visible tip of the problem of Thabo Mbeki’s and Jacob Zuma’s serious fiddling in the security and justice clusters and institutions.

 

 

Editor flees from Gupta TV

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

So what

Nothing, really. ANN7, or GuptaTV as it has been named in much of the South African media, continues to provide comic relief and excruciating embarrassment, in about equal measures. 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 anyway similar to his relationship with the Shaik brothers.

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

Zimbabwe – grin and bear it

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

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

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

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

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

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

To repeat comments I made on Friday:

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

Arms probe in tatters

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

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

Zwelinzima Vavi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amcu and the gold negotiations – some tentative speculation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herewith an extract from my weekly news commentary* as of 06h30 yesterday.

‘A minefield of obstacles for Motlanthe’ – Sunday Independent

 The Presidency, in the person of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, launched the “Draft Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry” on Friday. The document is based on an initial process of discussion with all interested parties (including, amongst others, Amcu, Num and the Chamber of Mines) and each party is expected (hoped) to ratify the agreement by June 26. The document essentially acknowledges the importance of the mining sector for investment, economic growth and employment. If it is ratified, all parties would be formally accepting the need to re-establish law-and-order in the sector, improve labour relations and address the housing and community needs of workers and their families, both near the mine and in the labour sending area. The document commits the government to ensuring “that the legislative and regulatory programmes provide predictability and certainty for the industry” including with regard to “tax policy” – those quotes from 6.1.4 and 6.2.1 of the draft document.

So what?

This initiative is no more than the minimum of what has been demanded of government, especially of the commanding heights of government, by most of those affected by the industrial relations crises in the platinum sector that began in early 2012. Thus, Jacob Zuma, and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, are looking busy and engaged with the crises and that will come as a welcome relief after what has appeared to be endless dithering and mixed messages.

However, there should be no expectation that the initiative will miraculously resolve the deep conflicts, both within government and ruling party policy and between the contesting trade unions. The Sunday Independent correctly points out that there is a tension in the government and ANC policy and the newspaper ascribes (or personifies) the tension as being between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (concerned about investment, profitability and revenues) on the one hand and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu as well as ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (concerned that mining companies owe South Africa, particularly black workers, a historic debt).

It is neat (but only partly accurate) to think of the policy conflict as being about the views of different powerful politicians within the government and the ruling party. The reality is that the ANC (and therefore, government) is, and has been since 1994, fundamentally torn between the economic necessity to reassure (mining and other) investors and the political imperative to demand redress and redistribution for its aggrieved constituents. Does the Motlanthe fronted attempt to negotiate a new understanding and modus operandi between the different interest groups in the mining sector represent a qualitative reassessment of where the ANC’s priorities lie? I doubt it, especially not 10 months before a national election where the ANC is starting to feel beset on several fronts but clearly (from a purely numeric perspective) has the most to win and the most to lose in the majority constituency of poor black South Africans.

It is tempting to see Kgalema Motlanthe’s role in the efforts to settle the sector as preparation for him to replace Susan Shabangu in the Minister of Mineral Resources post. Shabangu has gained a reputation as being instinctively suspicious of resource companies – although, again, I would suggest that this is more a characteristic of the ANC itself than of any particular individual. Motlanthe is perceived as ‘a good guy’, a person open to compromise, a peace-maker and a humble and loyal public servant. That would probably be a good thing for sentiment in the sector, but it would be important not to confuse form with content.

 

Julius Malema to party on down?

Malema has been explaining his decision to launch a new, yet to be formed, opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. He yesterday described the ANC as “on a downward spiral ideologically, politically and morally” and under Zuma, as being characterised by “tribalism, regionalism, factionalism and corruption”, essentially “an association of careerists and neo-liberal bureaucrats whose sole mission and role was protecting the interests of white monopoly capital” – see what essentially looks like his draft manifesto on Politicsweb.co.za. At the heart of the expressed policy of the proposed new party (announced in the run up to June 16 Youth Day commemoration) is the demand (that Malema was central to codifying as President of the ANC Youth League) for the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of white owned farm land.

So what?

Can Malema tap into the constituency of young black South Africans who feel abandoned by (or angry with) the ANC over its failure to affect more radical redress and redistribution measures? Can he win, as he promised last week, 5 million votes and thereby replace the Democratic Alliance as the official opposition? (Can he stay out of prison? – ed) Malema has an almost preternatural ability to identify, frame and play into the sense of disaffection amongst the most marginalised young black South Africans and he has the energy and charisma to at least make a go of forming a coherent opposition party. All his significant previous allies who have remained within the ANC (including Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale) came out strongly against of the former Youth League president over this last weekend.  Whether or not Malema manages to form the proposed Economic Freedom Fighters in time for it to have an impact in national elections next year, he will probably succeed in creating a gravitational pole that will keep the ANC from drifting towards business and financial markets. This will not be a new role for him.

 

Zimbabwe elections – Mugabe agrees to seek short delay

A South African Development Community (SADC) extraordinary summit met in Maputo, Mozambique on Saturday and Robert Mugabe acceded to the pressure to attempt to shift-out the July 31 date that had been set for the election in Zimbabwe that will bring to a close the current power sharing arrangement with the opposition Movement for a Democratic Change. Jacob Zuma is the SADC facilitator attempting to radically reform the regulatory, governance and security framework that allowed widespread repression and cheating in the failed 2008 election. None of the parties are ready for an election (including Zanu-PF which, amongst other problems, is riven with division at a central level and in key provinces Masvingo, Bulawayo and Manicaland).

So what?

The key reforms that must be in place for an election to succeed in Zimbabwe relate to control of the security apparatuses and to ensuring impartiality of those apparatuses and to establishing the impartiality of the state-owned media. Also, voter registration and various administrative issues need to be completed or rectified before the election takes place if it is to be ‘free and fair’. Zimbabwe is experiencing the beginnings of an economic recovery. This might benefit the incumbents (Zanu-PF) but the opposition hopes that the growing spirit of optimism will lead voters into their fold. There are no reliable opinion polls, so we will have to wait and see. The significant natural mineral assets, the exceptional tourism possibilities and the fact that a huge but uncounted Zimbabwean diaspora is in South Africa are amongst the issues that make the outcomes of what happens in Zimbabwe important.

Bits and pieces

  • City Press led with ‘War for Gaddafi billions’, based on the premise that two competing Libyan groups are in the country attempting to recover a fortune in gold, cash and diamonds that he (Gaddafi) allegedly stashed here – including a sizeable chunk “in gold bars in safe storage at OR Tambo International Airport” and in cash pallets held in the Reserve Bank. The story claims the Libyan factions are attempting to dangle the promise that the money will be used to buy South African manufactured armaments and that recovery of the many billions of dollars’ worth of assets would earn a 10% finder’s fee. The payload of the story comes in this paragraph: “According to Erasmus (a ‘controversial South African arms dealer’), Mphafudi (‘an ANC connected businessman’) and Maleka (‘the ANC security head’) were working with two Libyan investigators …. (Erasmus) claims that both South Africans accompanied the Libyans to see President Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla homestead.” (The Sunday Times reported that Zuma was accompanied by his cousin Deebo Mzobe during the meeting). Hmm. (Clarifications and emphasis in that quote from the City Press article added by me – ed).
  • Telkom’s bid to sort out its ‘legacy issues’ – by the “write-off of R12 billion in defunct assets” and by the settlement of its various cases with the competition authority – got headline coverage in City Press. “Our key shareholders are frustrated, our customers are frustrated and I can promise that we will not repeat the same mistakes of the past,” said new broom CEO Sipho Maseko last week. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Tina Joemat-Pettersson (Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) was directly accused on the front page of the Sunday Times of receiving a kickback of R100 000 in 2006 for her efforts in closing the purchase of Sunset Game Lodge, outside Douglas, while she was provincial minister in the Northern Cape. The allegation is serious, but as the story points out she is ‘the Teflon Minister’ and it is by no means clear that she will ever meet her comeuppance, no matter what she does or how badly she performs.
  • “Waterkloof scapegoat on warpath” – reports the Mail & Guardian. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, the movement control officer at Waterkloof airbase who was accused of being one of two key rule breakers that allowed the now infamous Gupta wedding party to land and be ferried from the strategically important military base, is approaching the public protector for relief. The Gupta’s of Sahara Computing are friends and funders of Jacob Zuma and his family and it is widely assumed that there was tacit pressure placed on Anderson and other officials to let the friends of “Number One” pass. This is an ugly affair where the real wrongdoers, the powerful and abusive politicians and their friends, get off scot-free and loyal and faithful officials take the fall.
  • Nelson Mandela’s health remains a key media topic (he’s still in hospital) and the symbol of the man is already deeply contested, especially between the ANC and the DA in the lead-up to next year’s elections. Mandela is an almost life-long ANC member and leader, but the DA is attempting (not altogether successfully) to argue that they are the true inheritor of his mantle while the ANC has drifted into a wilderness of incompetence and corruption. If Nelson Mandela dies between now and the national election next year, the essence of this contest would play itself out on perhaps the largest global stage in the history of human-kind.

* I write this news summary for clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities and send it to them at 06h30 Mondays (Tuesday this week) and I occasionally republish it here a few days later if I think it might be of more general interest. I am, of course, grateful to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to do this.

Herewith an extract from my weekly news summary and analysis.

The big question of the week was the degree to which Zuma’s Thursday morning briefing helped or hindered our economic decline.

I know I cringed as he was speaking, especially during the twinkly admonishment at the end urging journalists present to report favourably on South Africa. I wanted to shout at the TV and call out to my president (and he is my president, however much I might wish it otherwise): “Don’t be cute! This lot is ready to crucify you – and us – don’t you get it!?”

Well, I didn’t say anything … I have not yet sunk to shouting at the TV, but I do find myself switching channels to avoid those excruciatingly embarrassing moments our politicians seem to bless us with on an ever more regular basis. I am embarrassed at my embarrassment – it is such a childish response, but I find it gets worse not better as I get older.

The fact is I think Zuma’s attempt to talk up mining wage negotiations was the right thing to do. The problem, as others have pointed out, is his credibility is so shot that almost anything he says is dismissed by financial markets and the mass media out of hand.

So herewith, from early Monday morning, my analysis of the previous weeks news:

Rand and GDP growth down – the drivers are complicated, but at least some of this is about politics

Last week the Rand hovered around R10 to the dollar as Stats SA released figures that showed South African GDP had grown an unexpectedly low 0.9 % in the first quarter of 2013 (seasonally adjusted, annualised). Then on Thursday Jacob Zuma held a surprise press conference during which he announced that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant would hold talks with parties involved in the coming bargaining season in the mining sector – in the interests of reaching settlements with a minimum of production losses.

During the course of the next forty hours the Rand continued its significant decline and the media, not unexpectedly, busied itself with blaming Zuma’s performance for the country’s economic woes. “Zuma sinks Rand” – The Star, “Rand takes a dive after Zuma pep talk” – Mail & Guardian, “Rand talking cure off to a rocky start” – City Press, “South Africa’s Zuma takes a drubbing for run on rand” – Reuters and “Zuma not only reason for rand fall” –  together these headlines probably give an adequate summary of the media’s take on the week’s economic turmoil.

So what?

Drivers of the price of the ZAR are complex and varied as Business Report (the Sunday Independent’s business section) points out in perhaps the best press economic analysis of the week. Ethel Hazelhurst (Sunday Independent) argues that the rand is primarily being driven by a “cocktail” of uncertainty about US quantitative easing, a continuing slowdown in the Chinese economy, falling commodity prices, a strengthening US dollar and volatility in global markets – and more, that several currency strategists are likely to be recommending ‘buys’ on the rand at this level (which has proved true as the ZAR was at 9.88/$ a few minutes ago). The Sunday Times quotes Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan supporting this view: “We are very confident that the rand will recover in time, that the markets have overreached themselves.”

However, it is my view that the rand’s idiosyncratic behaviour (compared with the basket of currencies from emerging market resource dependent economies) requires further explanation. Traditionally it has been adequate to argue that the ‘idiosyncrasy’ is due to the fact that the rand is particularly liquid and therefore overreacts to more general exits from that group of currencies. However, so called “structural features” that relate to issues as varied as our ‘outlier’ current account deficit, insecurity of the electricity supply, risk of labour unrest and unrealistic labour demands in the mining sector, policy paralysis as a result of the unwieldy ruling alliance, poor governance as a result of preoccupation of political leaders with patronage extraction, corruption, escalating service delivery protests and the permanent risk of instability related to high levels of unemployment and inequality are combining to make for a particularly gloomy South African story at this beginning of winter.

Vavi lives to fight another day

Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu secretary general, has survived the latest attempts to remove him from his position. However an accounting firm will investigate if there was any impropriety in his involvement in the sale ‘the old Cosatu building’ and the purchase of ‘the new Cosatu House’. More importantly there will be various commissions to investigate Vavi’s political loyalties in the light of his failure to adequately articulate Cosatu support for Zuma in the lead-up to Mangaung (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and various online news sources … although be cautious, at least some of these outlets have reported factional rumours about Vavi in the past).

So what?

The deep fracture in Cosatu is assuming a clearer ideological and political character with unions clustered around the Num attacking Vavi especially for disloyalty to Zuma and the ANC and unions clustered around Numsa defending Vavi and asserting that his criticism of the ANC leadership for corruption and policy meandering are correct and appropriate. The issues are complex – as I have repeatedly discussed before – but it is probably true to argue that Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa have become the most significant source of opposition to Zuma’s government and leadership of the party, outweighing even that coming from opposition parties in parliament. No matter what happens with the investigation into Vavi there is likely to be a widespread belief that Vavi is the victim of a ‘stitch up’ (slang for framing someone for a crime or misdemeanour).

National Prosecuting Authority – further evidence of structural negatives

Last week senior state prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach was cleared of 15 disciplinary charges brought against her by the National Prosecuting Authority. The subtext of all of the coverage in the weeklies is contained in the summary analysis by constitutional expert professor Pierre De Vos: “It will strengthen the increasingly widely held perception that senior NPA leaders are appointed because of their political loyalty to the dominant faction inside the ANC (and especially to President Jacob Zuma and his campaign to stay out of prison) and not because of their personal integrity, independent attitude and ability to act without fear, favour or prejudice (as required by the Constitution)”. The charges against Breytenbach related to her alleged failure to act impartially when she was investigating the Kumba Iron Ore, Arcelor Mittal SA, Sishen and Imperial Crown Trading mining rights issue but was also widely interpreted as motivated by the her insistence on pursuing several other Jacob Zuma allies including suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and Nomgcobo Jiba, the person Jacob Zuma has appointed acting head of the NPA.

So what?

Ever since the suspension of Vusi Pikoli, the National Director of Public Prosecutions by Thabo Mbeki in 2007 (probably because Pikoli was pursuing then Mbeki ally Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi on corruption charges) and then his firing by Kgalema Mothlanthe (probably because Pikoli was pursuing corruption charges against newly elected ANC president Jacob Zuma) the National Prosecuting Authority has been in a precipitous state of decline. The institution has been used increasingly as an instrument to favour or retard various factional interests in the ruling alliance and with this has come a predictable decline in its effectiveness. The functioning of the prosecutorial authority is intimately tied up with the functioning of the South African constitution and can become a determining factor in investment decisions. The decline of the NPA should be seen as a not insignificant deterrent to investment in the country.

Bits and pieces

  • Num officials faked stop orders to hide the degree to which it has lost ground to Amcu according to reports in City Press business section. Eight of Num’s full-time shop stewards have been ‘expelled’ by Lonmin due to alleged fraud around union membership. “Full-time shop stewards are employees of the company who do only union work, but receive a salary – usually equivalent to relatively high grade jobs.” Num has until July 15 to regain members or lose its offices at the mine. According to the report the “offices have long doubled as the branch offices of the ANC” – as is the case with the hundreds of Num offices across the country. “Amcu represents roughly 74% of the 18 000 employees and 9 000 contractors at Lonmin” – City Press.
  • Most of the weeklies ran stories about talk show host Dali Tambo’s People of the South television programme due to be broadcast in two halves on state broadcaster SABC last night and Sunday next week.  The show is an intimate and warm interview with Robert Mugabe at home with his family.
  • “Gaddafi billions found in SA” was the lead story in the Sunday Times but over to the right on the front page was the bigger surprise: “It’s official: Pule lied about lover.” The Sunday Times claims it has seen documents that prove Dina Pule, Minister of Communications, has repeatedly lied about her relationship with businessman Phosane Mngqibisa. Failed telecommunications policy is a structural constraint to growth in the country and Pule, who is being investigated by a parliamentary ethics committee about whether she directed business towards Mngqibisa, has proved to be part of the problem. Her removal will come as a welcome relief, but policy uncertainty in the sector is a bigger problem than just this minister.
  • The Sunday Times argues that Cyril Ramaphosa is going to be used to “win support from the middle class and professionals in next year’s election”, while Jacob Zuma “will still be the face of the campaign in working-class communities” – (duh). The weekly has an interesting quote from an ANC leader supporting this assertion: “(w)e realised that the majority of our people love the president, but there are also these negative perceptions about him. What we identified was the issue of his associations, controversies about his children and family using their name to get business and the millions spent in Nkandla … So we will make sure that the DP (Ramaphosa) is visible in campaigns” (my emphasis added). All parties are intensively polling opinions in the electorate in the lead-up to elections and it is refreshing to hear ruling party leaders speak about the obstacles they face with such candour.
  • The Sunday Times also interestingly reports that the national leadership of the ANC is likely to bypass the structures of the party in Gauteng to reach voters in 2014 because the provincial executive (PEC) of the ANC has “not accepted the Mangaung outcome”. This is code for the assertion that the Gauteng ANC does not support the presidency of Jacob Zuma, which certainly squares with the position of the ANC in that province prior to Mangaung.

I was looking for a shorthand way of summarising what I thought were the main political risks that are in the minds of investors in South African financial markets.

Note that the emphasis here (in what appears below) is what I think is an appropriate prism for investors in financial markets, and specifically those with an horizon of a maximum of 5-7 years.

If I was looking at broader security issues, particularly with regard to the stability of the state and ruling party, I would have had a significantly different emphasis – and have aspects that are both more negative and more positive than that which appears below. Hopefully, at some time in the future, I will post here a more general threat or risk analysis that would be of more specific relevance to South Africans who hope to live and work here.

Finally, before I get on with it, I do not explore the potential for an upside suprise here … but there does appear to me to be a slight accumulation of good news, albeit against a dark background.

SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks

  • Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions: Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years);
  • Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event: Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium- to-long duration (five to seven years);
  • Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space: Serious risk. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).

Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions

Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years)

What it’s about: Most obvious are new interventions in the mineral and exploration sectors (including new taxes, price setting, beneficiation requirements, export restrictions, uncertainty about licence conditions and significantly increased ministerial discretion via the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill), but there are comparable interventions across the economy, as indicated in the ANC’s Mangaung Resolution and in a range of proposed regulatory and legislative changes, including those relating to telecommunications, liquid fuels,  the labour market, employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment (to name just a few).

My view: Since 1994, it has generally been the case that markets consistently overestimate the risk that the ANC and its government will take significantly populist policy measures. The best example of this was in July 2002, when exaggerated targets for black equity participation in the mining sector where leaked and R52b left the JSE resources sector in 72 hours – a buying opportunity of note. However, the traction Julius Malema was able to achieve with disaffected youth post-2009 and the implicit defection from the ANC and its allies in the platinum strikes last year have catapulted the ANC into something of a policy scrabble. While nationalisation is off the agenda, it has been replaced by a policy push that hopes to deploy private companies, through regulation and other forms of pressure, to achieve government (and party) targets of employment, revenue generation, service delivery to local communities and infrastructure build. Increases in the tax take look likely – it’s purely a question of ‘how much the market can bear’.

Government intervention, per se, is less the issue here but rather the confused, generalised and uncertain nature and intent of the interventions. If the interventions do not have the desired results (growth, employment and equality), the risk is that government does not reassess the wisdom of the intervention, but instead uses a heavier hand.

Financial markets: Policy uncertainty puts downward pressure on investment, employment and output in all sectors. In South Africa, these negative impacts will be felt most keenly by companies most exposed to government licencing and regulatory power, or most exposed to government’s political prioritisation. Resources, telecommunications and agriculture all fall into one, or both, of these categories.

Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event

Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium-to-long duration (five to seven years).

What it’s about: Significant and consistent (apparently linear) growth in service delivery protests, combined with growing levels of industrial unrest (in 2012, anyway) seem to imply that such unrest could continue to escalate until it reaches a point of ‘phase state change’ (as in thermodynamics, referring to changing states of matter – to/from solid, liquid and gas). Thus, the risk is of a sudden systemic shift from unstable to revolutionary/insurrectionary.

My view: Increasing protest and industrial unrest are normal – and fairly consistent – features of South African political life and have been since at least the mid-1970s. Even before 1994 there was no real expectation that unrest would lead naturally to insurrection. A rapid phase state change, like an Arab-spring type event, requires (perhaps indirectly) contesting political formations and ideologies as well as the widespread failure – or absence – of social institutions (parliaments, courts) that direct, mediate and give expression to grievances and/or conflicting group interests. South Africa is rich in such institutions and there is no evidence that large groups of dissenting voices have permanently failed to find expression in society’s normal processes and institutions – even when some of those processes include robust forms of public dispute. However, South Africa does have some comparable features to countries that have had ‘Tunisia-moments’ – including high and growing youth unemployment, high  levels of visible inequality and serious government corruption – so we would keep an eye on the escalating ‘service delivery protest’ trends, as evidenced in graphs from Municipal IQ below.

Municipal IQ

Municipal IQ

Industrial relations unrest is slightly different from – and more negative than – the question of social unrest as a whole. Trade unions are strong and growing in South Africa, and contestation between them is vigorous, even violent – as we saw in the platinum sector in 2012. Trade unions are businesses with an enticing annuity income flow – and this will drive their contestation. The collective bargaining system in South Africa is functioning sub-optimally for a number of reasons – including inappropriately high levels at which automatic recognition kicks in – and the disarray in the system also drives unrest. This conjunction of subjective and objective conditions means I am less sanguine about industrial relations stability (than about stability per se) and expect this to remain a negative investment feature for the next several years. I am specifically negative on public sector industrial relations stability for 2013.

Thus, I do not think unrest and social discord will lead to any radical policy or political discontinuities, but will remain a constant drain on confidence. I also think this phenomenon will tempt government into keeping spending (on the public sector wage bill and on social grants) at above-inflation levels – helping to feed uncertainty and unpredictability in state finances, inflation, the currency and the bond markets.

Additionally, I think labour unrest will remain a seriously destabilising factor of production – including via disruption of services in public sector strikes.

Financial markets:

Resources, agriculture and construction are most exposed through their reliance on large, aggregated and often low-skilled/low-pay labour forces. The financial services and retail are less exposed to (but not immune to) the negative effects of industrial action.

Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space

Serious risk. Medium-likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).

What it’s about: The ruling party is facing something of its own ‘fiscal cliff’. The ANC feels itself in danger of losing some support because of failure to deliver employment growth or adequate reductions in poverty and inequality. Foreign investors agree this is a risk, but will not necessarily agree to fund the gap. This tension is among the reasons that all three major rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded SA’s sovereign rating in 2012 (Fitch in January this year) and both Moody’s and S&P put SA on watch list for future downgrades. The ANC secures political support, at least in part, through spending on the public sector wage bill and on social grants – which together now make up more than half of annual non-interest government spending. Additionally, the ANC has occasionally shown itself hostage to the views of its alliance partners or popular opinion in its spending and revenue plans (Gauteng toll-roads, youth wage subsidy). The ratings agencies don’t like the tension and I expect the bond markets won’t either.

My view: South Africa maintains respectable debt-to-GDP ratios, although these grew to 39% of GDP by end-2012, substantially higher than the 34% for emerging and developing economies as a whole. When Fitch downgraded SA earlier this year, it specifically mentioned concerns about SA’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio, given that the ratio is higher (and rising at a faster pace) than the country’s peers.

South Africa is uniquely (eg in relation to its BRICS peers) exposed to foreign investor sentiment through the deficit on the current account combined with liquid and deep fixed interest markets. SA’s widening deficit on the current account is a specific factor that concerns the rating agencies and is one of the metrics the agencies will use to assess SA’s sovereign risk in the near future. Further downgrades are the risk – potentially driven by foreign investor sentiment about political risks. Non-investment grade (junk bond status) is not an inconceivable future rating.

Financial markets: A significant sell-off in the rand, coupled with persistent currency volatility and reduced foreign capital inflows. Traditionally this scenario would mean investors look for rand hedges and attempt to get exposure to export-orientated sectors, including manufacturing – and to stay out of the bond market. Offshore borrowing costs will be raised for domestic companies – as well as for the country as a whole.  This risk has an internal feedback loop (downgrades make debt more difficult to pay, leading to further downgrades) and naturally feeds other political risks, including in relation to taxation, clumsy government intervention, social stability and property rights.

Sunday’s newspapers were more interesting from a political risk and investment point of views than normal.

This is what I thought mattered, as far as financial markets were concerned, in last week’s Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press:

Construction industry – possible prosecution and fines for fraud and racketeering

Government and the national prosecuting authority are reported to be facing a dilemma: managers in at least 20 major constructions firms might be guilty of serious criminal practices relating to may years of in-industry collusion, but a successful prosecution of the guilty parties would rip the whole management level out of up to 20 top companies and thereby sink government’s infrastructure plans – Mail and Guardian.

The stories are covered in the Mail & Guardian and the City Press – both drawing their details from a series of leaked 2011 affidavits apparently produced by individual managers at Sefanutti Stocks when they (Stafanutti) realised that despite co-operating with a Competition Commission investigation, individual managers were likely to be liable for criminal prosecution (by the Hawks and the NPA) and that the punishment could include imprisonment.

Paul Ramaloko, Hawks spokesperson said “This case is bigger than people think. We are going to take our time and do a thorough investigation” (Mail & Guardian), but in City Press he says the investigation was in its “early stages” and that he would only comment once it had “matured”.

So What? Sounds like a political dilemma. The NPA and the Hawks are not (entirely) governed by the political priorities of government (despite apparently decisive co-ordination between the Hawks, SARS and the Public Protector in the Julius Malema fraud, money laundering and tax evasion investigation). However, government is likely to do what it can to make sure the companies survive intact – albeit compliantly chastened and grateful for leniency. Of course, the NPA and the Hawks might, alternatively, feel these managers would make good examples of how ‘old-order’ and ‘untransformed’ individuals and companies are as important sources of corruption as the ANC, its leaders, supports and structures.

Either way, the reputation and coherency of the companies concerned could be seriously impacted. However it is not clear from the news reports that there is any differentiation between, “winners and losers” … no-one appears more or less guilty than anyone else – which rather suggests the sector as a whole is risky, with no safe havens.

Gupta TV

Key Jacob Zuma allies Atul and Rajesh Gupta (using family vehicle Oakbay Investments) are reported to be on the verge of adding a 24-hour continent-wide news channel to their media portfolio (which includes New Age newspaper) in partnership with Essel Media and an unnamed black empowerment firm. Multichoice will likely be providing the platform but purely on a commercial basis and is not expected to be partner in the venture (Mail & Guardian).

So What?

Well, one of the Guptas’ current empowerment partners is President Zuma’s son Duduzane and the Guptas themselves have become key ANC funders and power players in South African politics.  The Mail & Guardian has a picture of Atul and Rajesh Gupta (who came to the country from India in the early 90’s) ensconced at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December. Obviously, the more the merrier on the news diversity front – and who says government and the ANC shouldn’t spend more money in the space? South Africa has a free and open media culture – to the point of government and ANC leadership spending a considerable amount of their time denying allegations and defending government policy against feisty attacks. It is unlikely to be harmful if government and the ANC strengthen their ability to put their point of view. Influence trading is always a feature of politics and is no worse or better in South Africa than it is in many countries across the world.

Telecommunications – new political upheavals on the cards

All the weeklies report that Communications Minister Dina Pule is about to be removed from her post in a cabinet reshuffle. At least part of the reason is because she is accused of “routing large sums of money to her alleged lover” – Sunday Independent.  So many individuals are touted as possible replacements, but the one person who comes up time and against is Lindiwe Zulu. This is what the Mail and Guardian has to say about this close Zuma confidant: “Zulu has just been appointed head of the ANC’s communications and her star has been rising under Zuma. A government source said Zuma trusted her opinions. She is his adviser on international relations. ‘He likes her bravery. The way she’s handling the Zimbabwe issue in a fearless manner has impressed him.’ She is one of Zuma’s three envoys on that country.”

So what? Pule will be the third minister to exit this portfolio in four years and instability in the department has raised fears that SA will continue to wander in the policy wilderness as far as migration to digital TV, Telkom’s business plan chaos, spectrum allocation and unbundling of the local loop (to name but a few pressing policy mattings) are concerned.

Mining Indaba – policy confusion as rife as ever

The Business Times has a depressing few pages about the Mining Indaba that implied that if anything the industry is more concerned than ever about policy uncertainty. On the proposed Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill: “The move has again flooded the country’s struggling mining sector with uncertainty” – Loni Prinsloo.

“On the exploration side” said Magnus Ericsson, Chairman of Raw Material Group, in the lead story, “I think it’s a general hesitation … if you find something in South Africa, what will be the BEE requirements? What are the other requirements? For some foreign investors they are seen as difficult”.

The same series of articles argues that the pressure to “quarantine” SA assets is becoming fierce. “A valuation by AngloGold Ashanti’s biggest shareholder, Paulson & Co, indicated that South Africa’s biggest gold miner could boost its share price by as much as 68% if it split out it local assets.” Elsewhere on the front page of the Business Times, the paper argues: “The true investor sentiment will be measured tomorrow (now yesterday– ed) when Sibanye (Gold Fields’ local assets – ed) lists separately.”

So what? To my mind regulatory uncertainty, especially in the minerals sector, remains the key politically driven investment risk in South Africa. The risk is being driven by pressures (felt by the ANC and government) to improve delivery and redistribution. These pressures will increase going forward and the increased regulatory burdens government is placing on private mining companies is unlikely to achieve any of government’s objectives … in fact, the reverse is more likely to be true. This is an unhappy environment for those searching for policy certainty.

Bits and pieces

  • The brutal rape, torture and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp filled many column inches in all four weeklies – hoping to stimulate the kind of outrage against rape that swept India recently. Many of the stories point out that South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world.
  • Ramphele – will she or wont she? The press is full of speculation about whether Mamphela Ramphele (former anti-apartheid activists and close friend of Steve Biko, a doctor, academic,  successful businesswoman, a former director at the World Bank and former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town) will set up a political party and that that party will capture a significant percentage of urban black support. I think she might, but I doubt whether the party will make a dent on South Africa’s politics. The most likely scenario, to my mind, is Ramphele ends up in the Democratic Alliance.
  • There was much speculation about what President Zuma might say in his State of the Nation address this Thursday – with a generally excited consensus emerging that Zuma is less beholden to special interest groups (post his decisive victory at Mangaung) than he was previously. I am not convinced this will lead to bold new steps.  I am watching for tension between this speech and the National Budget on the 27th of February.  I expect the political plans in Zuma’s State of the Nation to be at odds with Pravin Gordhan’s plans to balance the books … but I expect that tension to be hidden.
  • The Mail & Guardian gave a list of who it thought is in Zuma’s inner circle: (Lakela Kaunda, Lindiwe Zulu, Mac Maharaj, Collins Shabane, Gwede Mantashe, Nathi Mthethwa and Batandwa Siswana), but then spoiled any special insight that might have given us by adding :

“Those privy to Zuma’s kitchen Cabinets say the president also has a high regard for Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel and Justice and Constitutional Development Min­ister Jeff Radebe. Other key confidants include Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and, to some extent, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. People outside government who are in the president’s good books include businessperson Sandile Zungu, film producer Duma ka Ndlovu and  businessperson Deebo Mzobe, widely considered the man behind the building of “Zumaville”, the town surrounding the president’s homestead.”

… hmmm, must have a pretty big kitchen.

There is something that seems to have been missed in the public discourse about Marikina.

Without wanting to be over dramatic, I think Marikana is a clear warning that we are under immediate and serious threat; in ways that I will discuss below.

What happened – both before and after the police shooting – has been exhaustively examined and there have been excellent discussions about the untransformed migrant labour system, the collective bargaining system, the gradual implosion of Num, the awfulness of the conditions in Nkaneng, the micro-lenders explosion, the sadness and despair of families of victims in the labour sending areas  … one might have thought that every conceivable angle has been exhaustively pursued.

But we can be swamped by the details and the anger and grief.

I think something has been missed, perhaps in emphasis, rather than facts – and  because, rather than despite, the sheer attention to detail in the media coverage.

So take one step back and look carefully.

Ask: what is most essential about what happened here?

  • The police shot and killed 35 striking mine workers.
  • At least 10 other people had been killed beforehand – including 2 police officers – mostly by the strikers.

Now take another step back and let a slightly, only very slightly, broader picture come into focus:

  • It happened now, not in the apartheid era – and there is nothing with which to compare it in our 18 years of democracy.
  • The closest proximate cause was the implosion of the National Union of Mineworkers.

One more step:

… and one last step:

  • Num is Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, is the mainstay of ANC support in Cosatu and is one of 3 key pillars of support within the ruling alliance backing the re-election of Zuma (with the SACP and Kzn);
  • Amcu, Julius Malema and the wildcat strikers and their committees found each other from the beginning of the cascade (of which Marikana was a part) after the Implats strike in January.

As I focussed backwards and forwards through those perspectives I suddenly, with a surge of adrenalin, realised the danger we are in.

This is the essence of that realisation:

We have had 18 years of a comfortable ANC majority. Whatever the problems with the ANC’s performance I have mostly believed the party would continue to enjoy the overwhelming support of the majority – of so-called African black South Africans – well into the future, beyond any point worth worrying about.

Despite growing evidence to the contrary I have come to rely on the inherent stability that comes from the ANC sitting like a collapsed star at the centre of our political solar system; with that dense cinder, in turn, held together by the ANC’s own leadership sitting at the core of the party, heavy and stultifying, but essentially stable.

Marikana (in the violence, in the institutional collapse, in the momentum given political  evangelists of the Malema stripe) is about Jacob Zuma’s ANC spinning off pieces of itself, of its members and supporters, of its voters and potential voters.

The most obvious metaphors are from physics.

The centripetal force decreases as the set of interest at the centre narrow (please check my science here). The Nkandla patronage networks are in an ever tighter and more mutually dependent relationship with the SACP and a faction of Cosatu (a faction most closely identified with the Num). The narrower the centre, the less able it is to hold in place the system orbiting around itself. Ultimately, the bits are flung out of the orbit.

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

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

And the narrowing centre’s response? Well, that would be the massacre of the 34 mineworkers.

The blood-dimmed tide

The other metaphor is the vacuum, and as we know nature abhors a vacuum so it sends the first things that come to hand to fill it.

There seems to be a universe of hopeful voices out there that the first thing that will ‘come to hand’ is either a more democratic version of the ANC or a DA somehow more rooted in the nation (especially that three-quarters of the nation that is poor and black).

But what were the first things to rush into the vacuum, the vacuum left by the rapidly narrowing set of interests at the centre and by its precipitous loss of moral and political authority?

The communists had it right in 2009 already.

If the communists are good for nothing else, they are excellent at spotting fascists (I always think it is because, like alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery, communists feel the call of the beast within … but that is an argument I will need to explore elsewhere).

Already in late 2009 the SACP warned about the emerging tendency within the ANC (the tendency that coalesced around Malema, but has its roots deeper in elements of the emerging elite and their allies in the private sector):

Because of its rhetorical militancy the media often portrays it as “radical” and “left-wing” – but it is fundamentally right-wing, even proto-fascist. While it is easy to dismiss the buffoonery of some of the leading lieutenants, we should not underestimate the resources made available to them, and the huge challenge we all have when it comes to millions of increasingly alienated, often unemployed youth who are potentially available for all kinds of demagogic mobilization.

See what I mean? The communists are almost prescient as far as fascism is concerned. I covered those issues in more detail here.

Amcu and Julius Malema are part of the same phenomenon in the sense that they are both drawn into existence by the collapse of the centre and in addition share a number of features in ideology and style.

The extreme levels of violence, especially the violence of the state (deployed to defend the weakening centre) is also an essential and predictable element of what must flood in to fill the emptiness at the centre.

This is not some threatening future. Marikana threw aside a veil and revealed that this is where we are already, this is what is filling the vacated centre.

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

  And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(Note: I know it is such a cliché to use The Second Coming, but it is almost irresistible given the points I want to make here. Read the whole poem at the link I provide earlier … it is not really meant to be dipped into in the way that I have here. Consider its post-First World War context. )

*It was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who famously said the Party “found power lying in the streets and simply picked it up” – and he would have known a thing or two about that. For the most sturdy readers you can find a discussion of that here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities (Pty) Ltd.

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