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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.

The among the reasons I have failed to publish here for almost six weeks is I have been on a seemingly endless roadshow (series of presentations to fund managers domestically and in Europe and the UK) that started with Marikana, morphed into Telkom and is on its way back to its origins by focusing more on the strikes cascading through our economy. Combined with this is my contractual obligations to write political commentary for my clients – with a degree of exclusivity as part of the reasons why I get paid for it. Thus I have had almost no time to write anything here.

Another, more difficult to explain  reason for my coming to a virtual publishing standltill on my  blog is that my views about the state of the nation have darkened considerably since Markina and I have been gestating the idea that the National Union of Mineworkers’ loss of support and the Marikana shooting might be an almost perfect metaphor – or even predictive model – for the state of the ANC and its relation to society more generally.

I will try to put some flesh on those bones during the course of the week. But meanwhile here is a short opinion piece I wrote last week for clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities concerning the putative relationship between the strike wave and Julius Malema.

Will the wildcat strikes in the mining sector and Julius Malema’s populist campaign link up in a way that drives them both further, harder and deeper than they would have been driven separately and apart?

The South African news flow is confusing and jarring at the moment – and might well be driving sentiment against resource counters.  What follows is not a definitive answer to the question, but my first case expectation is that the strikes will be resolved through wage offers and that Malema will continue to get some traction with the strikers but that his ‘fight back’ campaign against Zuma and against his (Malema’s) expulsion has not got an endless potential to unravel South Africa.

We would be remiss if we did not keep the possibility of a generalised revolt and economic paralysis in mind but if I was forced to bet on an outcome – which I would not do unless forced, because the future is impossible to know before it arrives - I would guess we are approaching the apex of the threat in this specific confluence of events.

Here’s why:

Strikes

Strike action sometimes cascades through an economy and to some degree this is what is happening in the mining sector. However, in my opinion the press is too simply portraying the myriad strike actions in different parts of the economy as belonging to the same trend, when in fact some of the strikes are normal and predictable events is our collective bargaining system.

The ‘wild cat strikes’ (i.e. unprotected in law and outside of the collective bargaining system) starting in the platinum sector (with the Marikana incident at Lonmin giving the most impetus) are now spreading through the gold sector. In coal and in transport ‘protected’ (i.e. part of the collective bargaining process and stemming from a failure to agree upon a wage settlement) strikes are underway.

It is clear from union (Cosatu’s Satawu – the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) statements concerning the truck drivers’ strike that at least some of the momentum and energy of the settlement at Marikana is being used to give the strikers hope and encouragement, but it is likely that this strike would have happened even if there was no “Marikana’ to help spur it on. This strike came about as a result of a deadlock in wage negotiations and began on Monday morning.

The platinum and gold strikes are a different matter entirely. Workers can be legally dismissed for partaking in these ‘unprotected’ strikes – for example Amplats CEO Chris Griffith indicated yesterday that the company would consider dismissals if workers did not return to work from today. Press reports indicate that 35 000 workers at AngloGold’s Kopanang mine have joined the action. Business Report suggests that there are approximately 75 000 workers (15 % of the workforce) on strike (or prevented from going to work because of intimidation) across South Africa’s mining sector. These numbers are significant, but not overwhelming.

Nic Dinham, head of resources at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities in South Africa has pointed out that most workers, even the supposedly especially militant Rock Drill Operators, returned to work at Marikana for an increase of just over R2000 – and this despite the violence and anger that followed the police shootings. “This hardly seems revolutionary to me”, he said in a comment yesterday.

A wildcard variable here is if there were high levels of dismissals this might lead to the strikes being more protracted and serious than I expect; alternatively the closure of certain shaft and operations might break the transmission mechanism for the spread of the strike more quickly.

Julius Malema

Julius Malema’s on-going push to insert himself into the mining strike is going to cause worries today. He said outside his money laundering hearing yesterday: “These charges which they brought against me, they do not affect me at all. I am unshaken, I am not intimidated. I am going to continue the struggle against economic freedom (sic), they are wasting time. Tomorrow I am going to Impala mine in Rustenburg; we are going to encourage the workers to demand R12 500.”

There is no evidence that Malema caused  – directly or indirectly – the strike at Impala in January or the strike at Lonmin that culminated in the Marikana incident on August 16. It is true that he was welcomed by strikers both at Impala and at Marikana – and is likely to be welcomed at Lonmin again today (although the police might stop him as they did at his second attempt to address the Marikana strikers.) But if the strikers will, ultimately, go back to work as soon as they have achieved a satisfactory (to them) wage settlement, why would we imagine that the mine workers are a potential revolutionary base for Julius Malema?

Julius Malema is on trial for money laundering – in a case that implicates him and his close allies in serious criminal activity (money laundering carries an up to 15 year jail term). Malema argues (with  some justification, at least with regard to timing) that the case is politically motivated. This raises the compelling comparison between what is happening to Malema in the lead-up to Mangaung and what happened to Zuma in the lead up to Polokwane in 2007.

Zuma and his allies managed to turn corruption allegations into a successful campaign for the presidency of the ANC and the country – largely by portraying Zuma as a victim of Thabo Mbeki’s manipulations of the criminal justice system. It is important to note that this campaign was ultimately focussed on a vote at the ANC’s national conference and it never had a significant element of mass-mobilisation (except symbolically) and it certainly never looked like it might spill-over into some form of generalised unrest.

At this stage in the lead-up to Polokwane Zuma was already being backed by several regions of the ANC and by the ANC Youth League, the SACP, Cosatu and the ANCY Women’s League. Within the ruling alliance Malema has no official or formal support from any structure, except for a split vote in the Youth League – and, ultimately, succession will be determined by a vote at the ANC’s national conference in December and not by popular opinion. It is my view that what happened at Marikana indicates that the “formal structures” of the Ruling Alliance are not the determinant of history that they once were, but the Mangaung vote is purely an ANC affair and not necessary responsive to popular sentiment.

Unlike Zuma in 2007, Malema has been expelled from the ANC and is now free to take his campaign to the streets – but is also denied the ability to fight within ANC structures for reinstatement and/or for Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma as president in December. Nominations formally open in ANC structures next week Monday (1st of October).

A Wildcard variable here would be if Zuma and the state security apparatus gave in to the temptation to detain Malema on charges similar to sedition – this could give the crisis significant legs; alternatively it would take out of play a key element of the conflict and might lead to an early resolution of this particular contest.

Conclusion

None of this speaks directly to possible impacts on the market. The price of a number of financial instruments might be affected – perhaps quite seriously – through lost production and through negative sentiment more generally about the South African story.

My own view is that the medium term political risk environment is significantly elevated through a combination of these factors (wild cat strikes and Malema) –  along with the growing interdependency of the incumbent faction of the ANC and Cosatu (leading to greater state intervention in the economy and a more onerous labour market regime) growing violence in ANC internal election processes (largely because of intensity of competition to control patronage networks), the growing collapse of the boundaries between the public and private sector (corruption and tender-abuse) and an inability to resolve the social malaise engendered by unacceptably high levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty (leading to social instability and opportunities for populist politics).

Thus my answer to the opening question is:

I think the confluence of events makes the crisis larger than the sum of its parts, but it does not have an unlimited potential to become a more generalised and sustained revolt – thus no Arab Spring situation. However, as a backdrop to increased political risk it will have significant financial market impacts.

Remember kaleidoscopes?

Basically a tube that you held up towards a light and peered through as if it was a telescope?

But unlike kid’s telescopes –  which, like kid’s microscopes, were blurry and disappointing and stupid – the kaleidoscope was a device of astonishing power and beauty.

The point for my six-year-old self who received his first kaleidoscope for a birthday, probably, was the power that little tube put in my hands.

The simple expedient of  twisting one end caused visions of astonishing, luminous, grandeur to pour out the other.

I can still feel that tingling as if I was balanced on a precipice, reaching out to shape a whole universe; causing tectonic shifts in the intrinsic structure of reality … okay, maybe not that last bit … but you get the point.

Such power … and I had absolutely no idea how it worked.

My “device of power and beauty” was a semi-rigid cardboard tube with loose coloured translucent beads or pebbles in the end and two mirrors running lengthways up the inside, duplicating images of the transparent junk that tumbled as the tube was rotated.

My first kaleidoscope wilted in my sweaty, meglomeniacal hands a few hours after I had torn it from its pretty wrapping – and I cut myself on a broken piece of mirror as I desperately pounded it to make it continue producing those wondrous images.

Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.

I am slightly more worried today than I was when I wrote the piece below (July 2) just after the conference.

That is partly because I have thought further about some of the issues and partly because the consensus points within the ANC seems to be slippery – and therefore uncertainty is rising.

In short my worry is that the ANC is approaching more vigorous economic intervention with the enthusiasm and growing expectations of my six-year-old self after he first looked through his pretty new cardboard tube.

I think the likelihood of this all ending in tears in increasing exponentially – and the reasons are not very different from those that caused the ruin of my first kaleidoscope and my cut finger.

I will pursue this theme (the threats involved with increasingly desperate state interventions – especially those that worsen the problems they promise to fix) in future posts, but first my initial take on the conference; written just after having read the particularly awful English language Sunday newspapers of July 1:

Much ado – and confusion – about the ANC policy conference

The teams of journalists from the political desks at the Mail & Guardian, the City Press, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent could have been covering different conferences given the divergence of their understanding of what went down at Gallagher Estates in the Midrand from Tuesday to Friday last week.

This is my first attempt at a distillation of the main points – partly of the coverage, partly of what was supposedly being covered:

  • Debates about policy and the struggle over who will be elected to the top positions in the ANC at the National Conference in December became blurred, to the detriment of both.
  • The “Second Transition” concept became associated with Jacob Zuma (even though it was penned by his factional enemy, Tony Yengeni) and its rejection by most commissions at the conference was interpreted as a set-back to Zuma’s re-election campaign.
  • The power struggle obscured the fact that there was general consensus that transformation is “stuck” and radical and urgent action to hurry the process along needs to be taken if the ANC is to keep the trust and support of its majority poor and black constituency.
  • The report-back to plenary of the key breakaway commission on mining became the most blurred moment, when Enoch Godongwana presented a summary of the views on the state’s proposed involvement in the mining sector – with pro-Zuma provinces KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State tending to go with the SIMS compromise and the other six provinces tending to support the ANC Youth League in a strengthened nationalisation position.
  • When consensus is finally reached, it is likely to include an even stronger role for the state-owned mining company – perhaps giving it the right to take significant stakes in all future mining licenses issued. Absolute taxation levels might be an area of compromise between the state and the mining sector in negotiations about this matter in the final lead-up to Mangaung where policy will be formally decided.
  • There was broad consensus that the state could and should force the sale of farmland for redistribution purposes and that an ombudsman be appointed to determine ‘a fair price’ – to prevent the process being frozen by white farmers holding out for better terms. It is not clear whether this would require a constitutional amendment.
  • There was general consensus that the Media Appeals Tribunal is no longer necessary, that the number of provinces needs to be reduced, that the proposed Traditional Courts Bill is reactionary and against the constitutionally guaranteed rights of women and children in rural areas, and that the youth wage subsidy (as a tax break to employers) had to be sweetened, or replaced, with a grant directly to young job seekers.
  • The push for “organisational renewal” will require a number of changes: a probation period of 6 months for new members, a 10 year membership requirement before such members can be elected to the NEC, a reduction of the size of the NEC from 80 to 60 members and a downgrading of the status of the Leagues (women, veterans and youth) so they more directly serve the interests of the mother body.

So if this was a soccer tournament, what is the score?

The City Press led with “Tide Turns Against Zuma”, but frankly I think this is more about that newspaper’s preferences than anything else. The ideological disputes in the ANC are complicated but broadly follow an Africanist/nationalist group versus a SACP/Cosatu/anti-nationalist group. Neither Jacob Zuma nor Kgalema Motlanthe are clearly in either camp (but Zuma tends towards the former and Motlanthe towards the latter). Only one potential challenger, Tokyo Sexwale, is firmly in one group (the nationalists, which is the ideological home of the ANC Youth League) and he has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than winning this competition.

Only Motlanthe could seriously challenge Zuma in a succession race and despite all the rumours and leaks it is by no means clear whether he has any intention of running – or, if he did, whether he would have a significantly different policy agenda than that being pursued by Zuma and his backers.

Occasionally I publish slides from a current presentation series and here are a few from something I am busy with called: “The Second Transition – SA politics and policy somewhere twixt hither and yon”.

The general idea is the ANC government is determined to move beyond the ‘transitional’ arrangements that it agreed to in 1994 and strike out boldly towards some undefined, but more profoundly transformed future.

I start with a quote from Jeff Radebe at the launch of the ANC discussion documents in early March … which sets the atmosphere of the ANC proposals.

Then, taking some liberties, I summarise what the ANC is “really” (in my humble opinion) saying in motivating the documents:

I then set out on the difficult task of attempting to assess whether the ANC documents actually propose anything as thoroughgoing as the initial motivation implies.

Frankly, the answer is “no”; although the proposals are both worrying in tone and in how contradictory and “bitty” they are.

The best formulated document is the “Maximizing the Developmental Impact of the People’s Mineral Asset: State Intervention in the Minerals Sector (SIMS) – document (get a link to that here). It contains a thoroughgoing set of proposals that change the tax system for mining and propose a complicated set of upstream, downstream and sideways linkages for the industry that will create a new set of burdens and obligations (not all bad) for the mine owners. (My own feeling about mineral resources is that these are “non-renewables” and government is obliged to get the maximum developmental benefit out of them before they are lost forever – but that is just by the way.)

Almost every other document – and there are 12 in  all – meanders between

  • being meaningless wish-lists,
  • statist and authoritarian  blueprints to bully and control and
  • well researched and argued guides to fixing key aspects of what is wrong with our society

Almost all the good stuff is lifted body and soul from the meticulously researched National Development Plan with its focus on the 9 challenges of

  • widespread unemployment
  • ailing infrastructure
  • low standards of education
  • exclusion of the poor from mainstream development
  • a resource dependent economy
  • a failing public health system with a large disease burden
  • inept public service provision
  • widespread corruption and
  • societal divisions.

My presentation itself does not make strong predictions on how far the ANC will get with its deliberations … although what is clear is that policy discussion this whole year will be drowned out by the Mangaung election noise. It is is going to be difficult to ascertain any real direction through the clamour of the struggle to re-elect Jacob Zuma.

Leaving aside all the slides that deal with the actual documents, I do, however conclude by asking some questions of our key players … and I include those slides here for your interest:

As the months go by, I will hopefully have time to flesh out some of those question.

But for now I am in the final days of the road show trying to make sense of  the mess of proposals and hints in the documents, which span issues as diverse as fracking the Karoo, IDZ’s to SEZ’s, the Treasury versus EDD versus DTI, local procurement fantasies, some excellent fixes of BEE from Rob Davies,  the lonely excellence of the Gordhan and Marcus and infrastructure looking more and more like the ANC’s one-trick-pony.

In case anyone was wondering if I had disappeared into the ether: I have been seriously busy and have had no time to post on the blog.

If you were paying extra attention, you may have noticed that a post reviewing the nationalisation of mines debate appeared and disappeared a few weeks ago.

My mistake – it was bespoke for a month, and I jumped the gun. I am now able to publish it and you will find it below.

Meanwhile I am into my second reading of An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New” ANC by Fiona Forde. It is exceptionally good and I strongly recommend you go out and buy yourself a copy. I have begun a review which I will publish here during the course of the week.

But meanwhile, here is the month-old nationalisation update/review. My views haven’t changed much since I wrote it … and it is good to get it on the record … even if it is a little turgid and written in an overly formal tone.

Nationalisation update/review

The nationalisation of mines debate in South Africa is, as predicted, reaching new heights of sound and fury. Yesterday it appeared that Cosatu was officially supporting the Youth League call. This is a situation fraught with danger although I do not change my assessment that the ANC is unlikely to decide on mine nationalisation along anything like the lines proposed by its youth wing.

Summary bullets

  • Yesterday Cosatu economist Christopher Malikane argued that the ANC has accepted as fact that the mines would be nationalised and that it was only a question of “how” not “if”.
  • This does not imply significant new risk although the markets are likely to interpret it as such.
  • In reality Cosatu is significantly divided on the call and current shifts in Cosatu policy have more to do with (important) internal conflicts.
  • Cosatu does not have the final or even main say over ANC economic policy and its current flirtation with the Youth League is actually about frustration with not achieving its policy aims with the ANC.
  • The ANC and its left wing allies have been consistent and steadfast in their criticism of the call and I outline the history both of the Youth League call and of the critique of the call in this report.
  • The nationalisation call has consistently been deployed in political battles for power within the ANC and in government which both gives the call unrealistic political energy and makes the threat difficult to interpret or assess.
  • The ANC has set its Economic Transformation Committee the task of assessing the call and making proposals. I expect clarity to emerge in November this year but a final decision will only be made at the centenary national conference in December next year.
  • Cost, international agreement, the Bill of Rights and the constitution make it inconceivable that the ANC attempt to nationalise the mines.
  • However I think the party and government will use the threat as a stick to get a better deal out of the mining houses.
  • Between now and the final decision the “sound and fury” will keep the issue alive and the threat present.

Cosatu shifts towards the ANC Youth League

Yesterday  Congress of South African trade Unions economist Professor Christopher Malikane was reported to have said at a South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry forum that the group charged with discussing the nationalisation of mines in the ANC had moved beyond the issue of whether the mines should be nationalised and is now purely considering modalities to achieve this aim. “Investors are looking for certainty around the issue of nationalisation, well this is the certainty they need,” he said.

The ANC Youth League managed to place formally on the agenda of the ruling African National Congress (at the party’s National General Council in September 2010) the proposal that government consider nationalising a majority share of the mining industry – for report back and a decision at the party’s Mangaung elective centenary conference in December 2012.

The general noise gets louder

With the ANC and government leadership mired in controversy relating to poor service delivery, poor government performance and accusation of corruption – and the Zuma presidency as weak as it has ever been – the ANC Youth League and its supporters in government appear to have seized the initiative and are making all the running at a public level. Investors and other observers would be forgiven for thinking that the slogan “Economic Freedom in our lifetime!” and the calls to nationalise the mines, banks and the land (that last explicitly without compensation) were not government policy. I am of the view that owners of mining equity and other property in South Africa are starting to feel the heat.

My view

My view has been that the ANC is highly unlikely to decide to nationalise the mines – although uncertainty in this regard will persist right up until December 2012 (although some clarity is expected to emerge after the ANC committee examining this issue reports back some time in November this year).

I think that the party and government will attempt to use the populist surge to discipline the mining companies to fulfil their social and Black Economic Empowerment obligations under the Mining Charter (which arises out of the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act).

Additionally government and the party are likely to use the opportunity to change the tax and royalty regime to extract more revenue from the sector – particularly with the imposition of a tax on windfall profits.

Finally I think it likely that new obligations will be placed on the mining companies – especially with regard to some form of obligatory contribution to the building and maintenance of transport and power infrastructure near where the mining operations are located.

Brief History of the nationalisation call

The ANC Youth League on nationalisation of mines

Soon after the current leadership of the ANC came to power at the landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007 the ANC Youth League elected Julius Malema as its president (in April 2008).

By the end of that year Julius Malema and the Youth League began proposing that the mining industry be nationalised. This was the essential elements of that proposal:

* an immediate suspension of the issuing of mineral rights and permits;

* the establishment of a state owned mining company;

* the nationalisation – with or without compensation – of fifty percent of all mining operations;

* that licenses only be issued in future on the basis of a 60 percent equity stake being held by the state owned company.

The Youth League drew authority from the historic Freedom Charter document. The document, drawn up in a national consultative process led by the African National Congress in 1955 and adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown says of the economy:

“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.

Criticism from the Left of the ANC Youth League call

The major critique of the ANC Youth League call was formulated by Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (and major ANC intellectual and ideologue).

It is my guess that Jeremy Cronin was deployed by the incumbent leadership of the ANC in the belief that a criticism of the nationalisation call articulated by leading communists would defuse the Youth Leagues claim of militancy and radicalism – and I therefore cover these arguments in detail here.

Cronin argued that the Freedom Charter passage supports the idea that “the people” get the full benefit of the economic resources “not that there be a narrow bureaucratic take-over by the state apparatus and the ruling party’s deployees” (all Cronin quotes in italics in this section from SACP’s Umsebenzi Online Volume 8, No. 20, 18 November 2009).

The state owning important aspects of the economy says nothing, for Cronin, about whose interests are being served:

“Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s fascist Italy, and Verwoerd’s apartheid South Africa all had extensive state ownership of key sectors of the economy.”

So for Cronin the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act had already gone some way to fulfilling the Freedom Charter’s objectives by explicitly stating:

“… that South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources belong to the nation and that the State is the custodian thereof ….  In other words, it is the “nation” (with the state as custodian) and not the mining companies that have legal ownership of the mineral resources beneath our soil”.

Cronin argues that the Youth Leagues proposal of nationalising

“mining houses in the current global and national recession might have the unintended consequence of simply bailing out indebted private capital, especially BEE mining interests”.

And further that:

“Many of our gold mines in particular are increasingly depleted and unviable. Some reach costly depths of four kilometres below the surface. Recently the global gold price has bounced back, but it is telling that, unlike in the past, our gold output actually dropped by some 9% in the same period. Our gold mines are simply no longer able to respond dynamically to gold price rises.”

Cronin (while making it clear he thinks “the people owe the mining houses absolutely nothing”) points out that South Africa’s Bill of Rights sanctions expropriation but requires compensation at a price agreed by both parties or determined by the courts.

The bottom-line for Cronin is that nationalisation would do nothing to further the “national democratic struggle”. Rather it;

“would land the state with the burden of managing down many mining sectors in decline … burden the state with the responsibility for dealing with the massive (and historically ignored) cost of “externalities” – the grievous destruction that a century of robber-baron mining has inflicted on our environment. In the current conjuncture, nationalising the mining sector at this point would also probably unintentionally bail-out private capital, in a sector that is facing many challenges of sustainability. The problems of liquidity and indebtedness for BEE mining share-holders are particularly acute.”

Opposition to and support of Youth League call

President Jacob Zuma, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (who is also SACP Chairman), and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu have all explicitly rejected the ANC Youth League’s call – with Shabangu having famously said that the mines would only be nationalised “over my dead body”.

However despite this being the overwhelming position of the ANC and government, the Youth League scored a significant victory by having its proposal placed formally on the ANC’s policy agenda – achieved at the National General Council meeting in September last year.

At that conference Tokyo Sexwale (Mvelapanda Resources and Human Settlements minister) and Bridget Radebe (Mmakau Mining, wife of minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe and sister of Patrice Motsepe) both came out in support of the ANC Youth League’s call – giving some weight to the now widespread allegation that the Youth League is operating with a hidden and funded agenda to have failing Black Economic Empowerment deals bailed out by government.

Arguing against the call were leading ANC intellectuals Joel Netshitenzhe, Jeremy Cronin and Trevor Manuel. However the ANC incumbent leadership failed to block the Youth League proposal and it is now formal policy of the ANC to investigate the matter and report back for a decision to be made at the centenary National Conference of the ANC which will be held at Mangaung (Bloem) in December 2012.

The ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee

The committee tasked with formulating the ANC’s position on the nationalisation of mines is the Economic Transformation Committee – which has the general brief of investigating the role of the state in economic development and is the natural forum in the ANC to develop a position on nationalisation.

There is not much in the public domain about the proceedings of the committee, but it is my information that Gwede Mantashe is overseeing the work of the committee which is formally headed by Enoch Godongwana (deputy minister of Economic Development and ANC NEC member).

The contributors thus far include those from the ANC Youth League, Joel Netshitenzhe, MZ Ngungunyane, Cosatu, Floyd Shivambu, Paul Jordaan and the National Union of Mineworkers. The full text of the initial contributions can be found in the last five issues of ANC’s internal discussion publication “Umrabulo” (find those on the ANC website at http://www.anc.org.za/list.php?t=Umrabulo).

It is my understanding that those opposed to the nationalisation call – for the reasons that have already been summarised in this report – are attempting to craft a compromise that will allow everyone to save face while allowing government to wrestle a better deal out of the mining companies – as stated in the “My view” section at the start of this report.

It is my understanding that the committee will report back in November this year and I expect the markets to get an indication of how the debate will pan out then. However, it should be borne in mind that the formal conclusion of this debate will only be reached at Mangaung in December 2012 and the noise is likely to continue right up until the last minute.

Cosatu’s shifting sands

The major change of external inputs into my assessment has been a struggle within the Congress of South African Trade Unions that has resulted in a shift away from the federation’s original position which was closely aligned with the view of the SACP and the incumbent leadership of the ANC – as articulated by Jeremy Cronin above.

The last unambiguous statement from Cosatu on this general issue came in the form of a joint communiqué with the SACP on the 24th of June 2011- I quote it here in full:

“… periods of capitalist crisis are also typically characterized by various forms of right-wing demagogic populist mobilization acting on behalf of various capitalist strata in crisis, but often masked behind a pseudo-left rhetoric. We believe that the same phenomenon is apparent in SA, finding a potential mass base amongst tens of thousands of unemployed and alienated youth in particular. However, behind this populism are often well-resourced business-people and politicians seeking to plunder public resources. We resolved as the SACP and COSATU to close ranks and to expose the true agenda of these tendencies and their connections to corruption and predatory behaviour in the state.”

However, at the Cosatu National Executive Committee meeting a week later a split appeared in Cosatu that has impacted on this debate.

The conflict is complicated but in a nutshell, it is between a faction led by powerful Cosatu Secretary General Zwelenzima Vavi and Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) of South Africa and a faction headed by leaders grouped around the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) under Frans Baleni. Broadly the NUM/Baleni faction is supportive of the SACP and the Zuma leadership of the ANC while the Vavi/Jim/Numsa axis has become frustrated with broken promises (concerning both corruption and economic policy) of the Zuma/ANC leadership and would generally seek a more radical socialist or workerist political solution than is being offered by the ANC.

The Vavi/Jim/Numsa faction has over the last month begun courting the ANC Youth League, and attempting to harness the energy coming from this sector for its own ends. This is highly opportunistic as Vavi and Numsa have consistently characterized the Youth League leadership as “right-wing demagogic populist” and the League’s nationalisation call as fronting a corrupt BEE agenda looking to take a double bite out of resources available for transformation.

Rank opportunism or not, the crack in the Cosatu position is adding a new element to nationalisation debate. It is my understanding that the National Union of Mineworkers remains opposed to the ANC Youth League call, but the new element will undoubtedly add some confusion.

The point to remember about Cosatu – a point reiterated by the ANC and government leadership time and again – is that the federation represents a sectional interest. There are obvious reasons why some elements in Cosatu would want the mines nationalised – who wouldn’t want a guaranteed job for life as a Greek style (up until recently) government employee?

It is to NUM’s credit that its president Senzani Zokwana said in November last year that the Youth League was being reckless with the industry and that the League’s call was inspired by rich Black Economic Empowerment recipients looking to get failing deals bailed out by the state and Frans Baleni a month ago reiterated: “It is not only the private sector that has invested (in mines), but the workers with their pension and provident funds have also invested. We should have maturity and the debate should not have political undertones.”

It’s the law!

A key motivator of my view has been that South Africa is bound both formally and informally to agreements – including in the Constitution – that make it impossible to nationalise the mines without full compensation. Nationalising 50 percent of the mines would cost in the region of $130bn. There is no conceivable advantage – and an almost endless downside – for the government to nationalise the mines. Therefore it is not going to happen – although the end result might look like a compromise and might entail the establishment of a state owned mining company, although one with a much smaller asset base and agenda than conceived in the Youth League’s call.

Nothing material has changed that would allow me to change the view – although my confident smile has assumed a slightly brittle quality. Cosatu was never going to be the determining factor in this debate but the weakness of the ANC leadership – in particular the weakness of Jacob Zuma’s presidency – means that I am no longer certain that the centre of the Ruling Alliance can hold.

From the start the nationalisation of mines call has, in part, been a stalking horse for leadership challenges within the ANC and government. I have argued elsewhere that the call has been central to Tokyo Sexwale’s political ambitions and that he has covertly supported the Youth League in this regard for some time.

Now we have an element of Cosatu attempting to forge some form of alliance with the Youth League around the call clearly as part of a strategy to shift the leadership balance within the ANC.

The Youth League itself is using the call for its popular mobilization potential to help push its own candidates (particularly Fikile Mbalula – currently minister of sport) for higher office.

In this environment it would be foolhardy to be overconfident about the call. However it is my opinion that predicting the success of the Youth League call would be the same as predicting the imminent failure of the South African democratic project and state – a view I believe is too extreme and alarmist.

In many ways what is happening now is very much as predicted: the situation will be full of sound and fury right up until a decision is made at the end of 2012.

This is the second of three articles about the New Growth Path (NGP) Framework released last week by the Ministry of Economic Development.

One of the architects (I must assume) of the NGP, Neva Makgetla  (an economist long associated with Cosatu and now deputy director general in the Department of Economic Development) recently examined both the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy and the ‘industrial development plan’ alternative usually advanced (in my opinion) by members of the SACP.

Writing in the September 2010 special issue of the African Communist (journal of the South African Communist Party designed as a forum for Marxist-Leninist thought) Makgetla spells out what she thinks are the problems with both polices are.

Her views of what has gone before are interesting because the new policy tries to marry these frameworks by taking only the best of both.

Someone should have warned them that in policy marriages, as in human ones, you take the good with the bad … but more about that in the third post about the NGP which I will probably only get to by Monday.

The ‘anti-poverty framework’ associated with GEAR

“In effect, the transition to democracy built an implicit social compact: business would retain its property rights, and by extension its wealth and standard of living, while government would use its tax revenues increasingly to address backlogs in services for black communities left by apartheid.”

Makgetla sees the 1996 GEAR policy framework as having left in place the basic structure of the Apartheid economy.

Path dependency meant mining and finance continue to dominate and that property relations and inequality remained unchanged.

But the strategy, according to Makgetla, was attractive to successive ANC governments because it was quick to roll out and provided immediate benefits for the poor (particularly through social grants), while (hopefully) stimulating production and generating employment as the poor consume more goods and services.

“(The major benefit of the strategy) from the standpoint of the state was that it did not require explicit intervention in the economy. It relieved the government of responsibility for transforming the economy, with the associated risks of failure and potential conflict with business. Instead, government could focus on the more agreeable task of improving the lives of constituents through the more conventional public functions of providing basic services and housing.”

The risks were largely in lost opportunity – not achieving “new kinds of economic growth and by extension enhanced employment”. Because the strategy was dependent on state revenues, it was ultimately hostage to the booms and busts of the global economy.

Her key assessments of the policy are:

1. the transfers remained too small to provide the hoped improvement in the conditions of life of the poor and therefore the expected increase in demand and economic stimulation;

2. the relatively strong rand meant that new demand for manufactured goods, especially clothing, appliances and household furnishings was largely met by imports, and

3. the poor were ultimately dis-empowered and demobilised by top-down hand-outs that are central to the strategy.

Industrialisation strategy – SACP alternative

This is the policy proposal that ‘stands in’, in Makgetla’s assessment for the traditional left contribution to the policy debate. It is best revealed, in her opinion, by the Industrial Policy Action Plan (1 and 2) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

These strategies are designed to encourage production of manufactured goods, especially for export.

The industrial strategy has the potential, in her opinion, to access larger markets in order to drive mass based production, which in turn will secure more rapid growth and higher employment.

Crucially, the approach is modelled on the relatively rapid development experienced in Asia especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

The version of the strategy she deals with – which is the version in IPAP2 of the DTI – explicitly requires government to change which parts of “capital” it supports i.e. government would need to collaborate more closely with “industrial capital”, while reducing support for mining, farming and finance.

The state should focus its support on conventional manufacturing especially of capital goods, transport, electronics – and to a lesser  degree “light industries” like clothing, food processing and minerals beneficiation. The policy tends to assume that services and production to meet domestic demand are inherently less competitive “and hence less desirable.”

Makgetla thinks there is high political risk for government in this strategy. The chances of failure in such an unequal society are high and if government adopts a strategy largely dependent on its effective intervention in the economy, it will get the likely flak along with the less likely kudos.

Risk is increased because the strategy is hostage to global demand for manufactured goods and RSA will be competing with China and almost every other developing country that sees this kind of strategy as central to their development path.

Finally, the industrialisation strategy supports long term economic growth but not employment and equity, which are not automatic consequences of growth. It ignores labour intensive activities like agriculture, services and construction and often leads to proposals to hold down wages to support competitiveness – she was prescient about that, but then she did help write the NGP!

On Monday I will spell out more specifically what the NGP proposes to do and I will make an assessment as to whether the policy will ever be implemented by this government and if it is, what it’s likely consequences would be.

If any of you are still with me by then, I will be surprised and you will probably be slightly sick of grandiose government policy making.

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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