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I intend, in the near future, to dust off my Marxist theory.*

I am going to need a framework through which to express my growing conviction that much of our politics can be understood as a function of the collapse of the alliance of classes that underlay the national democratic revolution – and the African National Congress.

The big driver is the strongly emergent black middle class – or perhaps competing versions of that class. In the background is a sort of bad kung fu movie fight scene involving the industrial working class, various parasitic elites within the state and party, a comprador bourgeoisie and a whole mess of tribalists, proto-fascists, landless peasants and  lumpen proletarians of various stripe.

(The camera occasionally flicks across the deeper shadow behind, where we almost catch a glimpse of Moeletsi Mbeki’s lurking oligarchs, watching us.)

It’s my job to have some kind of understanding of what is going on … and I will need all the help I can get theory-wise.

In the last week the ANC has given strong hints that the Labour Relations Act amendments are being held up because government wants balloting prior to strikes and a ‘forced mediation’ strike-breaking mechanism. (See here.)

Also we have the astonishing re-emergence of the (excellent) idea that we should break up Eskom and sell off some of  the bits and get the private sector to build other bits. (See here  … and btw I can’t help but notice how much interesting news is written by Carol Paton of Business Day.)

What’s going on?

Well, one things is government is facing further downgrades because it can’t pay its bills.

The biggest bill of all is public sector wages, which will be renegotiated before  the current wage agreement expires in March 2015.

That bill will represent above 35% of non-interest government spending and the wage level the employer and the employee eventually agree upon and the degree of disruption that accompanies the bargaining is extraordinarily important for South Africa and therefore for the stability of the governing party.

Also government is burning due to its apparent inability to get the endlessly promised infrastructure built. At least part of the reason is the constant labour stoppages, for example at Kusile and Medupi.

Having lost much revenue (and political support) during the recent strikes led by Amcu and Numsa, the ANC government is forced to find a way to rewrite the terms of engagement between employer and employee.

Also Eskom is bleeding … or potentially bleeding … government dry.

The case for privatisation is threefold: you get money from the asset sale to pay your debts, you don’t have to keep bailing out the loss-making enterprise and you get the ‘efficiencies’ (the removal of structural impediments to growth) that supposedly come from the private sector running the enterprise.

(As an aside: privatisation seldom works quite like that. This government, and the people of South Africa, have barely recovered from the the drubbing we received from the ‘private sector’ following the partial privatisation of Telkom in the 90’s.  But desperate times, desperate measures … and all of that.)

The groups that traditionally oppose these policies are in disarray. Cosatu has essentially collapsed in a heap – and the most energetic sections of organised labour are actively hostile to government/ANC anyway and no longer require wooing … or rather, following Marikana and various statements of outright hostility by the ANC and government leaders, are no longer susceptible to those old sweet lies.

The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.

A growing mystery to me is where the SACP is in all of this?

So its all: hello 1996-class project, we who threw you out with the bathwater at Polokwane in December 2007 would like to apologise and welcome you back. Don’t worry, the communist are in China learning how to deal with corruption and with the labour force … you can chat to them if they ever come home.

So meanwhile here is a sort of ancestor to my questioning the ‘class character’ of the moment; a column I wrote for the Compliance Institute of South Africa in November last year:

Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

I admit that on the face of it the comparison seems something of a stretch.

For example I can’t think of an ‘Nkandla’ equivalent in Baroness Thatcher’s world – although her son seemed to benefit from parental political power in much the same way as Jacob Zuma’s myriad offspring seem to be enjoying.

Maggie1

The point, though, is Thatcher came to power with the reforming mission to roll-back back the influence of organised labour and to make labour markets more flexible– all as part of her attempt to stop an on-going recession, bring summer to the ‘Winter of discontent’ (paralysing wage strikes by public sector unions in Britain in 1978-1979) and increase employment and economic growth.

(‘Thatcherism’ as a political-economic ideology is also considered to include attempts to keep inflation low, shrink the state – by privatising state owned enterprises – and keep a tight rein on money supply … (and is not famously concerned about employment – Ed) … but let’s leave those details aside and stick with the matter of organised labour.)

Much to my surprise there is growing evidence Jacob Zuma is forcing a showdown within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – and between the members of the ruling alliance (the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu).

Since 1994 it has been a good bet that tensions in the ruling alliance would flare up and then subside – but that the constituent ideological factions and organisations would always back off from a real split.

The ruling alliance has always seemed to me like a vaguely unhappy marriage that none of the parties have the resources or discipline to leave.

I have been covering South African politics and financial markets since 1997 and in 1999 I commissioned this cartoon :

Maggie2

 

The original caption read: ‘She means nothing to me’, he pleaded unconvincingly. ‘You’re the one I will always love’.

The report that accompanied the cartoon – which I originally published for the then stockbroker Simpson Mckie James Capel – made it clear that the man in the middle represented the ANC and his entreaties were addressed to Cosatu and the SACP … while his real passion (and the furtive fumbling behind his back) was for business, global and domestic. (Cathy Quickfall drew the cartoon and did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.)

It has looked for many years as if the dysfunctional relationship would continue for ever – that the parties involved (both the institutions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu but also the myriad ideological factions that exist across those organisations) have more to gain from being inside and more to lose from being outside.

But, surprisingly, it appears that the ruling faction within the ANC (the incumbent leadership, represented by Jacob Zuma) appears to have finally drawn some kind of line in the sand with the ‘left’ unions within Cosatu, most obviously the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

The first signs that this was happening appeared when evidence surfaced that Jacob Zuma’s allies within Cosatu were moving against Zwelinzima Vavi, the now suspended secretary general and strident ‘left’ critic of corruption in the ANC and critic of the slightly more business-friendly economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) of the Zuma government … (remembering that this was written late last year and Vavi has now been reinistated … sort of – Ed).

At first it appeared that Vavi would be got rid of by being accused of corruption or some form of financial mismanagement related to the sale of Cosatu House for a price less than it was worth. While that investigation was still on-going, Vavi handed his enemies a perfect excuse to suspend him by having sex with a junior employee in the Cosatu head-office earlier this year (last year – Ed).

Since the suspension of Vavi his allies in Cosatu, especially the biggest affiliate (the 350 000 member Numsa) has been on a collision course with both Cosatu itself and with the ANC.

The conflict is likely to come to a head at the Numsa special congress to be held on December 13 – 16.

Why do I see this as, partly, Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

Well, Vavi’s suspension is only the proximate cause of the impending collision. The ‘real’ or ‘underlying’ causes are what are important.

Vavi, Numsa secretary general Irwin Jim, his deputy Karl Cloete – and probably a majority of Numsa leaders and shop stewards … and several other groups and leaders within Cosatu) appear increasingly of the opinion:

  • that Cosatu has been bullied by the Zuma leadership into accepting policy positions with which it (generally) disagrees
  • that the ANC under Zuma has attempted to turn Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC and the alliance summits have become nothing but a ‘toy telephone’ rather than a real joint decision making forum for the ANC/Cosatu/SACP alliance
  • the policy positions with which this group disagrees are, particularly, the National Development Plan, but also e-tolling, the Youth Wage Subsidy and the ANC government’s failure to ban labour brokers. (The reasons why this ‘left’ group opposes these policy measure are crucial: they oppose the NDP because it is seen as ‘neo-liberal’ and anti-socialist; e-tolling because it is seen as covert privatisation of public infrastructure; the youth wage subsidy because it segments the labour market, threatening Cosatu’s monopoly and potentially exposing ‘protected’ Cosatu members to competition from ‘unprotected’ youth workers; and the failure to ban labour brokers because those institutions are also anathema to Cosatu’s monopoly.)
  • that the ANC under Zuma has been captured by a crony-capitalist regionally based (possibly ethnic) elite bent on looting the state
  • that the gamble to back Zuma against Mbeki has badly misfired

 

There is widespread press and analyst speculation that the tensions within Cosatu could lead to the federation splitting – and in some way or another the more specifically ‘socialist’ pro-Vavi, Numsa-based group leading Cosatu – or a piece of Cosatu – out of the ruling alliance.

In what way is this ‘Zuma doing a Maggie’?

Well, because the disgruntlements of the Vavi/Numsa group (described above) are real and represent significant shifts against organised labour by the Zuma government.

If we add to the youth wage subsidy, the NDP, the failure to ban labour brokers, e-tolling in Gauteng to the very tight budgeting for public sector wage increases mentioned in my October column I think we have a strong circumstantial case that Zuma’s ANC has moved decisively to roll-back the power of organised labour.

Maggie3

 

Why Jacob Zuma and his allies might have done this is revealed clearly in the anaemic Q3 GDP growth figures of 0.7 per cent compared to the previous quarter, or 1.8 per cent on a year-on-year basis . Almost across the board analysts and economists have ascribed most of the weakness to labour unrest, particularly in the motor vehicle sector – where the recent strikes were organised by Numsa! (Again, remember that this was written in November last year … just imagine how many exclamation marks he would have used if he had written that sentence today? -Ed)

Numsa has also helped plague Eskom’s flagship Medupi project – and has undoubtedly contributed to government’s infrastructure plans looking shaky.

The ANC’s motivation is not purely an attempt to fix economic growth – and bring to an end our own ‘Winter of Discontent’. Vavi and his allies in Numsa have harried and harassed the ANC leadership over corruption – and particularly the upgrade to Nkandla – and this has clearly helped force the hand of the Zuma ANC to drawn a line in the sand with the left-wing of Cosatu – especially as the ANC enters an election and struggles to cope with this level of internal dissent and criticism.

The resignation earlier this week of Numsa president Cedric Gina (who, unlike the majority of his Numsa colleagues, is close to the current ANC leadership: his wife is an ANC MP and he probably has similar ambitions himself) is probably an indication that the Zuma/ANC allies intend contesting Numsa’s direction in the lead-up to the Numsa special congress in December. The ANC leadership has probably decided to fight it out in Numsa – and Cosatu more generally – making sure that if/when a split occurs the faction that sticks with the ANC/Zuma/SACP is as large as possible and the faction that defects is as small as possible.

The big risk for investors and financial markets associated with a possible split in Cosatu is that Vavi/Jim group is likely to contest with unions within Cosatu that currently support the ANC and Zuma’s leadership – most obviously and most unsettlingly –  with the National Union of Mineworkers which has complained repeatedly that Numsa is poaching its membership. This potential for a widespread contestation of each workplace and each economic sector between a new ‘Cosatu’ and an old ‘Cosatu’ is probably the most important threat represented by the unfolding crisis.

Politically the Vavi/Jim group will likely be campaigning against the NDP, the youth wage subsidy, e-tolling and Nkandla-style corruption just as the ANC’s election campaign peaks early next year. I do not think a split in Cosatu will translate automatically into specific electoral declines for the ANC – it is possible and even likely that Numsa members who support a split could still vote for the ANC.

However, one of the big unanswered questions is whether the defecting faction has any possibility of linking up politically with the EFF. Up until now the defecting faction linked to Vavi and Jim have unequivocally rejected the EFF on the grounds that its (the EFF’s) leadership are ‘tenderpreneurs’ (much like the Nkandla faction of the ANC) who just happen to be out in the cold.

However, the EFF’s support for nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white owned farms with or without compensation does dovetail with aspects of the Vavi/Jim faction’s essentially socialist ideology.

My own view is that in the event of a split it is possible that the Vavi/Jim faction forms a ‘labour party’ which could only feasibly contest elections in 2019.

The motivation for Thatcher moving against the unions was as much about weakening the Labour Party as it was about repairing the economy – so we shouldn’t dismiss the Zuma/Thatcher comparison purely because his motivations are mixed.

If Zuma and the ANC succeed in reducing the militancy and power of organised labour it is possible that they will have contributed in a small way to laying the grounds for an improvement in public education, for a period of recovery and even extended economic growth.

It’s a risky – and complicated – business, but it was for Baroness Thatcher as well.

 

* It was, in our eyes,  a fine hat and we cocked it jauntily. And thus attired, and to our very great satisfaction, we successfully answered all the important epistemological questions of the day. We let the  cowards flinch and traitors sneer as they boastfully proclaimed the end of history. We were history … or at least, through the complex functioning of the intelligentsia in Marxist Leninist theory … we were history’s engine made flesh. And the race wasn’t over … we were merely getting our breath back.

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

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

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

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

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

Political outlook 2014: No safe haven in the storm

Introduction

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

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

Amcu: bridgehead in previously safe African working-class constituency

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

Julius Malema and the formation of the EFF

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

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

NUMSA split: The unravelling of the ruling alliance

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

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

ANC swelling in rural conservative areas and shrinking amongst urban sophisticates

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

Labour environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy and regulatory risks predominate

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

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

State finances: The deeper risks are fiscal

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

Election 2014

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

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

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

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

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

votingresultsinpreview

BRICs and the uncertain rise of the SACP

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

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

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

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

Succession and a ‘rescue mission’ in the ANC?

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

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

Herewith an extract from my recent political news update.

Strikes – turbulence as the cycle hits the secular trend

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

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

So what?

I mentioned previously:

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

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

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

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

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

Lock-out

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

Alliance Summit

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

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that:

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

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

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

… bold forms of state intervention, including through:

  • Financial regulation and control;

  • Progressive and redistributive taxation

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

Criminal justice system appropriately named

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

So what

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

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

Editor flees from Gupta TV

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

So what

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

Herewith my latest news update as of 06h30 this morning.

  • NDP – defections to the left and right
  • Collusion scandal in the construction industry gathers momentum
  • Tax Review Committee – some welcome caution
  • Proposed legislative changes in the mining industry shows SA government’s deep ambivalence towards the sector
  • Ramaphosa – rumours that Zuma faction is planning his side-lining
  • Zimbabwe election chaos looms
  • Zanu-PF funding Julius Malema? Good story, but impossible to prove
  • ICT takes its ‘R150-billion’  iron-ore claim to the Constitutional Court

National Development Plan – under attack from left and right

Trade union Solidarity has added its voice to growing (but varied) criticism of the National Development Plan (NDP), calling it “self-contradictory, heavily race-based, deeply interventionist … largely unworkable … downright intrusive and harmful and … likely to require substantial funding”. [1]

Solidarity joins John Kane-Berman (Chief Executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations) who recently said “half-baked solutions suggested by the National Development Plan would do little to address the multiple challenges facing South Africa” and, further, that the plan “is a hotch-potch of contradictory ideas that have not been properly costed and are bound to fail” – Business Day 03/07/13.  Kane-Berman added that the lack of future scenarios for tax revenues, budget deficits or the public debt means that an endorsement of the NDP amounts to giving the government “a blank cheque for more taxation and more borrowing and probably for both” – ibid.

The NDP was adopted by the ANC at its Mangaung conference In December 2012 and has since been repeatedly endorsed as the cornerstone of the government’s medium and long-term planning by Jacob Zuma and members of his cabinet.

Since then the policy has been welcomed by organised business (for being generally market friendly) but strongly criticised by Cosatu for prioritising growth over inequality, employment over ‘quality work’ and for its reliance on markets and the private sector.

So what?

Jacob Zuma’s government has used the NDP to lend an appearance of coherence and co-ordination to policies as diverse as infrastructure development, labour market reform, tax policy, mining regulatory shifts and anti-corruption campaigns. Our own view is (unusually) closer to that articulated in a recent position paper by the South African Communist Party which said that the NDP is “a broad vision open to necessary criticism and engagement. It is NOT really a PLAN, still less a fit-for-implementation plan.”

Government should not be judged on its broad statements of intent – which is essentially what the NDP is. Government should be judged by what it actually does (or fails to do), what legislation it brings to parliament, what structural reforms it affects, the degree to which it improves the public service, how it manages the public purse … and by a host of other performance indicators.


The collusion scandal in the construction sector

Murray and Roberts CEO Henry Lass’s public apology for the company’s involvement in the widespread collusion scandal made the main headline on the front page of the Business Times yesterday. “I know that the Competition Commission’s findings of collusion in the construction sector has angered and disappointed you, just as it has our board, executives, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders,” Lass bemoans. He then goes on to explain that much of the wrongdoing took place in the dim and distant past. “None of the current executives at Murray & Roberts were found to be at fault for any form of collusive conduct through the Fast Track Settlement”.

So what?

It appears that public outrage at the scandal is growing. The lead editorial in the Sunday Times is particularly scathing. Headed: “Jail the price-fixers in the construction sector”, the editorial argues “when the private sector is caught out cheating and inflating costs for everyone who pays tax, we should judge them by the same standards we apply to the likes of Bheki Cele, Dina Pule or Menzi Simelane. Apologists argue that construction companies did this to make the deadline for the World Cup — but it’s a poor argument. It wasn’t just the soccer stadiums that South Africa’s iconic blue-chip companies with suitably self-righteous corporate governance manifests, such as Aveng, Group 5, WBHO and Murray & Roberts, colluded on. There were many others, including the Coega harbour nearly a decade ago, the Nelson Mandela bridge and any number of other construction projects.”

Expect civil claims from various angry customers (including metropolitan governments) … and it is not inconceivable that criminal prosecutions of some executives who didn’t “come clean” in the Competition authority process could still be on the cards.

 

Tax Commission – some welcome caution

Pravin Gordhan has named members of the long promised Tax Review Committee charged with inquiring ‘into the role of the tax system in the promotion of inclusive economic growth, employment creation, development and fiscal sustainability’. Judge Dennis Davis will chair the committee. Other members are Annet Wanyana Oguttu, prof Matthew Lester, prof Ingrid Woolard, Nara Monkam, Tania Ajam, prof Nirupa Padia, and Vuyo Jack – with Cecil Morden, an official from National Treasury and Kosie Louw, an official from the South African Revenue Service as ex-officio members who will provide technical support and advice.)

So what?

It’s an adequate committee staffed and led by people respected across society and (mostly) with the necessary technical expertise. After the ANC adopted policies at its Mangaung national conference in December last year that specifically called for increased taxes in mining (the State Involvement in the Mining Sector document) it is a minor relief that the Treasury has qualified the terms of reference by specifying (amongst other limitations) that the any changes to the mining tax regime must take account of “the challenges facing the mining sector, including low commodity prices, rising costs, falling outputs and declining margins, as well as to its current contribution to tax revenues.”

 

Mining industry legislative changes show ANC ambivalence about the resources sector

The Mail & Guardian published an interesting piece raising important concerns about proposed changes to legislation contained in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill that was tabled in parliament on June 21. According to the author of the article (Peter Leon a partner and head of the ‘mining sector group’ at Johannesburg law firm Webber Wentzel) the bill “perpetuates and, in some respects, exacerbates” excessive administrative discretion in the issuing of mining licences.

In the article, Leon says that the proposed legislation “inexplicably deletes all the Act’s statutorily prescribed timelines and leaves this to ministerial regulation … second, it introduces an export licensing system for ‘designated minerals’, which are vaguely defined as: ‘Such minerals as the minister may designate for beneficiation purposes as and when the need arises in the [Government] Gazette.’ All ‘designated’ minerals will require the written consent of the minerals minister prior to their export.”

Leon points out that under the proposed legislative changes “the minister becomes the pricing tsar for ‘designated’ minerals” and “the department will effectively control all exports of such minerals”.

So what?

Many of the proposed legislative changes Peter Leon discusses in this article are precisely those that were originally contained in the State Involvement in the Mineral Sector document adopted as policy by the African National Congress at it December 2012 National Conference. So, despite various attempts to mollify investors after a torrid 2012 (through, for example, Kgalema Motlanthe’s framework agreement for a sustainable mining and the ‘sensitive’ tax commission terms of reference discussed above) the ANC and its government is still following its contradictory impulses with regards to the resources sector. Expect confusion and contradictory signals to continue to undermine sentiment in the sector.

 

“Fierce ANC Ramaphosa succession battle brews” – Sunday Independent

The Sunday Independent quotes several unnamed sources claiming that there is a campaign in the ANC to prevent the party’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, from becoming the country’s deputy president after the national election next year. The weekly newspaper claims the fight is “pitting President Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa’s supporters against each other.” The story suggests that either ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete or Public Services Minister Lindiwe Sisulu are likely to replace Kgalema Motlanthe in 2014.

So what?

This story is based on the idea that the long term imperative of Jacob Zuma and his lieutenants  is to control the succession in 2017 (in the ANC National Conference which will elect the next ANC president ) and in 2019 (in the national election which will elect the next country president). Why? Because an independently minded candidate (which, in this narrative, Cyril Ramaphosa is imagined to be) might fail to protect Zuma from the consequences of the corruption allegations that still hang over his head. A careful reading of this and similar stories indicates that the “unnamed sources” in favour of ensuring that Ramaphosa becomes deputy president next year are from Gauteng and the “unnamed sourced” plotting against him are from Kwazulu-Natal. Such stories in the popular press are inevitably based on factional leaks out of sections of the party pursuing some or other agenda of their own. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a plot against Cyril Ramaphosa, it just means we need a healthy sense of scepticism about these kind of leaks into the media.

 

Zimbabwe election chaos looms

Zimbabwe is due to host national elections on July 31 – having endured a chaotic ‘special vote’ on July 14 and 15 for approximately 80 000 uniformed personal.

SO what?

The Mail & Guardian put it well:  “every indication is of a poll that will be not only shambolic but also intrinsically unfair. The outcome of the past two elections in Zimbabwe were fiercely disputed and it would be tragic if the result once again left the country in limbo. Equally unacceptable would be a façade of legitimacy over another stolen election.”

(Tony Hawkins, “professor at the University of Zimbabwe’s Clinical Research Centre” gives a useful analysis of the “dismal economic past and the failed policies of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party” on the leader page of the Sunday Times. After his analysis – which I recommend here  – Hawkins says “given these statistics and Zimbabwe’s ranking near the top of the list of failed states, it is difficult to understand why South Africa’s chattering classes are so convinced Mugabe will win again next week. His track record of economic failure is unparalleled in any developing country that has not experienced civil war or military adventurism.” While this ‘member of the South African chattering classes’ has no real idea whether Mugabe will win –by hook or by crook – next week’s election, I have to agree with both the Mail and Guardian and Professor Hawkins that it is a foregone conclusion that it will be ‘shambolic’ and ‘intrinsically unfair’.)

 

Bits and pieces

  • Facebook profile, Baba Jukwa, purporting to be a kind of ‘deep throat’ in Zanu-PF has claimed (according to  City Press) that Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters are funded by key members of Robert Mugabe’s cabinet. “This is ostensibly in revenge against President Jacob Zuma and his international relations adviser, Lindiwe Zulu, who have been heading the Southern African Development Community mediation process in Zimbabwe following the violent 2008 polls” – City Press 21/07/13.
  • Business Times said “rumours are swirling that Cell C has been trying to put together a landmark, cross-sector deal to partner with First National bank (FNB)”.  The story repeats speculation that “(e)ssentially, this would see FNB start its own cellphone business using Cell C’s network as its backbone” with the intention of rolling out integrated cellphone banking to the customer base of both companies  – Business Times.
  •   Imperial Crown Trading and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu have filed papers at the Constitutional Court, asking it to set aside Pretoria High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal judgments giving Kumba Iron Ore subsidiary Sishen Iron Ore Company (SIOC) full rights to one of the largest iron ore mines in the world. ICT is co-owned by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s long-time partner, Gugu Mtshali. “At stake for ICT is a 21.4 percent share of the mining right, which is conservatively expected to produce a net profit of R150bn over the next 30 years for its owner” – Sunday Independent.
  • Pali Lehohla, Statistician General and head of StatsSA used some unusual language to describe his feeling about his now retired deputy director general Jairo Arrow as well as now fired chief of Methodology, Evaluation and Standards, Marlize Pistorius – who together identified an 18.1% undercount in Census 2011. Aside from expressing his temptation to “physically manhandle” Arrow, Lehohla also said “we will rid this organisation of those kinds of plotters … you have to act with integrity and flesh, flesh, no blood, no drop of blood must come from the neck … It must be a sword that cuts clean. That’s how we deal with people like these … when you attack you must attack as aggressively to eliminate it completely” (Sunday Independent). Is this what happens when statisticians become generals

[1] Solidarity is a (largely white) South African trade union that mostly organises skilled and semi-professional workers. The criticism of the NDP appear in Solidarity’s latest Labour Market Journal (that can be accessed here.)

It is difficult to avoid an abiding suspicion that the protesters flinging faeces in the general direction of the DA led Cape Town and Western Cape provincial administrations are not always, as they claim, signed up members of the downtrodden masses.

Among the reasons I am suspicious is a good friend told me that when the recent group of 176 protesters carrying bags of shit – let’s call it what it is  –  were offloaded at Esplanade train station in Woodstock she couldn’t help but notice the pitter-patter of Carvella clad feet,  the swish of Gucci handbags (in the hands not carrying the  shit …. hmm, whatever) and the sleekly clad and buxom bodies diagnostic of a certain species of yuppie political activist.

So, yes … it is difficult to separate the reality from the hyperreality , so to speak, when it comes to the semeiotics of the ANC’s clash with the DA, especially in the Western Cape.

A more interesting take, one that doesn’t bother with the relatively minor question of political parties’ attempts to manipulate or ride the underlying grievances of the poorest and most marginalised South Africans, is an excellent article by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service website (SACSIS describes it’s function as: “

Schutte writes:

Though ‘shitting’ has to be one of the most taboo subjects around, it is a matter that we all deal with, on average once or twice a day. Defecation, and the rules governing it, undoubtedly comprises the complete gamut of human behaviour yet open discussion around it is deemed distasteful and disgusting. Indeed this is exactly how it played out when protesters dumped the contents of portable toilets on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in a backlash against the sanitation policy of Helen Zille’s administration. This policy offers communal portable flush toilets to shack dwellers at no cost — a system, which they say, is inadequate and often ends up filthy and untended.

Catch Schutte’s article here and I would recommend that you subscribe to the free SACSIS.org.za email service.

That being said, spare a thought for the put-upon DA premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.

I stumbled across a thorough report from the Presidency (Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation) into the state of sanitation services across the country. The report (download it here) makes a detailed comparison between provinces. I laboriously screen-snipped the graphs for provincial performances in informal housing areas and put them together in a graphic (which is a stretch for me, so I hope someone finds this useful).

This is what the scoreboard looks like:

poolitics2

(When you look at relative performance in formal areas the Western Cape  also performs well, bested only by Gauteng – although, I suppose, it is not useful to run this like it was a competition. The ANC has faced rolling service delivery protests across the country for many years and the tit-for-tat between the DA and the ANC with regard to the toilet issue has almost nothing to do with ‘the facts’ or ‘the truth’.)

However the graphic does confirm that the DA has outperformed in relation to a crucial area of service delivery to informal areas – the very areas from which it is getting flack in Cape Town. And that raises an interesting point about the stability of societies as they move away from authoritarian rule and high levels of absolute and relative poverty.

There is a peculiar fact, confirmed across the world and over a long period of time, that improved service delivery itself is a good predictor of protest and disaffection.

I have an instinctive feeling of why this might be true. The uniformly downtrodden, those with no hope and no expectation of relief from ‘the powers that be’ are less likely to be moved to demand more.

Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950′s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations are related to the possibility revolt but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meet an unexpected slowing in that delivery.  His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.

Here is the point expressed graphically:

daviesJ

So the theory is that as a middle-class emerges from previously marginalised groups, as education and social infrastructure improves, the expectation of improvement begins to outstrip the maximum rate, or the sustainable rate, of real improvement. The first thing that happens is that resistance and dissatisfaction intensifies.

This is one of the many reasons transitions like ours can be scary and unstable. The old ways of doing things and the old, essentially stable, structure is abandoned before what is replacing it has moved in and filled the vacuum and the available space.

We are in the moment when ‘the old’ is gone but ‘the new is not yet born’.

I am struggling to make up my mind whether there really is a small accumulation of good news, clearly visible against the looming night … or if I am just desperate. Today’s Business Day story by the always interesting Carol Paton looking at Manuel and Sisulu on a stern clean up the public service drive must be positive, surely?

… and several points in my take on the political news in the English language weeklies from last week are postive:

Cabinet reshuffle

The Sunday Times says Jacob Zuma is planning to axe Dina Pule, Minister of Communications and Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Pule’s tenure has “limped from one scandal to another – including the questionable millions paid to her boyfriend from sponsorship money meant for the ICT Indaba last year” – Sunday Times.

So what?

The Department of Communications has failed to unbundle the local loop, missed innumerable opportunities with Telkom, under-resourced the regulator Icasa and generally failed to appoint/settle/keep senior management … and has had three ministers in 3 years. Fixing this is a priority area in the National Development Plan and one of the key ‘bottlenecks’ or ‘obstacles to economic growth’ that need to be removed. So Pule’s removal has (if it actually happens) to be seen as a good thing.

(Interesting – to me – speculation on the side is that Zuma might move Thulas Nxesi (Public Works) to replace Angie Motshekga (Basic Education) and have Motshekga replace Xingwana. This means that Jeremy Cronin (deputy minister in Public Works) might then replace Nxesi. But, as the Sunday Times says “there are concerns in the Zuma camp about whether he (Cronin) can be relied on to protect the president from the repercussions over the controversial R206-milliion Nkandla upgrade.”

Public service

Lindiwe Sisulu (Minister of Public Service and Administration) is quoted in the Sunday times about planned amendments to the Public Service Act setting in place ways of stopping senior administrators benefiting from government contracts. She also promised a “super-director-general’ who would ensure that all heads of department adhere to performances linked reward systems.

So what?

Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi lauded Sisulu plans, saying this would stop the “looting” of public funds by government employees. “We can only say halala (congratulations) to that!” he is quoted in the Sunday Times. I have to agree with Vavi. The biggest political failure that is actually in control of government in South Africa is the poor performance and monitoring systems – and therefore delivery failure and corruption – in government and public sector institutions. Sisulu’s intentions are to be welcomed – and she probably has the steel to follow through. So another plus.

Ramphele wanted DA to be dissolved

The Sunday Times quoted several DA members essentially claiming that Mamphela Ramphele almost joined forces with the DA, but wanted the party to be dissolved first and for her to have an equal share of a new institution. “She wanted a new political party and not to join the DA … she came with nothing but wanted an equal share” said one unnamed source.

So What?

The week has been beset with rumours about the impending announcement by the respected academic and business person Mamphela Ramphele that she is to set up a new opposition party. Speculation reached a climax when it was announced that she had resigned as Chairperson of Goldfieds on Wednesday last week. Ramphele would make an excellent addition to opposition parliamentary politics in South Africa – but the idea that one person, with no party structure or obvious constituency in hand, will change the South African game is hopeful at best. However, on the balance, this is undoubtedly another positive. (That’s three in a row for those who are counting.)

Zimbabwe referendum

Several of the weeklies reported that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday setting March 16 as the date for a referendum on a draft constitution. Most expressed concern that local activists felt that that gave very little time to explain the draft constitution (it took 3 years of bickering to cobble together) to voters and that the draconian Public Order and Security Act would need to be suspended or repealed before campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote could take place. All opposition parties have  called for a referendum ‘Yes’ vote to allow the constitution to be accepted and signed into law without any further changes.

So What?

Zimbabwe’s stability and growth prospects impact on South Africa in a myriad ways, for example in the floods of economic refugees and the shifting size of the export and investment markets in Zimbabwe. An interesting story in the Sunday Times by senior editor Mondli Makhanya argued that Zanu-PF is likely to benefit from opposition disarray and an improving economy. “With the elections just months away, Zanu-PF is smiling and looking forward to strolling to victory. After having brazenly stolen four parliamentary and presidential elections between 2000 and 2008 Zanu-PF will not have to resort to violence and skulduggery this time.” If Makhanya is correct (which he may well be) it is going to stick in a lot of craws that through a combination of looting, patronage networks, repression and the chasing of the urban poor into the arms of the South African informal economy and welfare system, Zanu-PF might remain in power.

New Iran claims hit MTN

The jailing of Iranian born US citizen Mohammad Hajian for supplying “sensitive and potentially dangerous equipment to MTN’s mobile network in Iran” (Mail & Guardian) deepens MTN’s woes in relation to its Iranian operations.

So what?                             

“The conviction is damning for the South African mobile giant, as it provides judicial corroboration that the company used sanctions-busting networks to beef up its technical infrastructure in Iran” (M&G).

State of the Nation Assessment

Most reviews pointed to the key absence of any binding theme in Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.

City Press probably had the best coverage.

  • It (CP) correctly points out that there was a specific “shift on land reform” –  with a move from “willing buyer, willing seller” to a “just and equitable” formulation.  This refers to the establishment of a “valuer-general who intervenes on behalf of the state … who then oversees land valuation …to keep the price … affordable for the state to redress” – CP quotes Gugile Nkwinti (Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform).
  • It argues that the youth wage subsidy has been swept aside and that government, business and labour in negotiations through Nedlac will announce a plan soon whereby “growth industries with young workforces will attract state support to hire the young and jobless … unskilled young people will also be offered a second chance to write their matric exams”. So no across-the-board subsidy … but a directed one, only in selected industries.
  • It picks away at the infrastructure programme and the various roles that will be played by Malusi Gigaba (Minister of Public Enterprises) and Ebrahim Patel (Minister of Economic Development). City Press interviewed the ‘up-and-coming’ Gigaba and asked him if Ebrahim Patel had left him much of a role to play. Gigaba replied: ““Economic Development is responsible for a broader plan. My department is responsible for three big infrastructure projects: the roll out of broadband, electricity infrastructure and logistics like rail. Other departments are responsible for roads, transport and dams.”

So What?

The State of the Nation address is always over-anticipated and usually bitterly lamented as not having been specific or visionary enough. This year, not unexpectedly, Zuma enumerated the successes of government and hyped the plans.  Much of what Zuma and his government will do and say in the next while will be focused on the national election in 2014 – and expectations likely to be disappointed.

Bits and Pieces

  • City Press reports that the department of fisheries, headed by Tina Joemat Pettersson is in “total free fall” – raising serious concerns about government’s ability to conduct research required to determine quotas of ‘allowable catch’ for key species.
  • Sunday Times business section reports that industrial unrest and violence at the Medupi construction site make the “chances of the R91bn power station feeding power into South Africa’s overstretched grid by the end of this year … slim”.
  • Sunday Times reports Harmony Gold made history by making individual workers at its Kusasulethu mine sign a treaty with the company in order to lock individual workers into a contract with the company. “This is quite a revolutionary move … (it) means that individual workers can now be taken to task when stepping over the line” says Peter Major, Cadiz mining analyst. Major argues, according to the report, that if similar agreements had been put in place a year ago when trouble first started brewing on the mines at Impala Platinum, a “Marikana” might have been prevented.

(Added as an afterthought: I realise I haven’t made any kind of conclusion given that the opening paragraph suggests I was going to indicate either that I am more positive than negative or vice versa. Frankly, I can’t make up my mind. Which probably makes me a fairly bog standard South African.)

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.

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.

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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