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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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
“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.”
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 was looking for a shorthand way of summarising what I thought were the main political risks that are in the minds of investors in South African financial markets.
Note that the emphasis here (in what appears below) is what I think is an appropriate prism for investors in financial markets, and specifically those with an horizon of a maximum of 5-7 years.
If I was looking at broader security issues, particularly with regard to the stability of the state and ruling party, I would have had a significantly different emphasis – and have aspects that are both more negative and more positive than that which appears below. Hopefully, at some time in the future, I will post here a more general threat or risk analysis that would be of more specific relevance to South Africans who hope to live and work here.
Finally, before I get on with it, I do not explore the potential for an upside suprise here … but there does appear to me to be a slight accumulation of good news, albeit against a dark background.
SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks
- Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions: Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years);
- Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event: Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium- to-long duration (five to seven years);
- Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space: Serious risk. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions
Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years)
What it’s about: Most obvious are new interventions in the mineral and exploration sectors (including new taxes, price setting, beneficiation requirements, export restrictions, uncertainty about licence conditions and significantly increased ministerial discretion via the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill), but there are comparable interventions across the economy, as indicated in the ANC’s Mangaung Resolution and in a range of proposed regulatory and legislative changes, including those relating to telecommunications, liquid fuels, the labour market, employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment (to name just a few).
My view: Since 1994, it has generally been the case that markets consistently overestimate the risk that the ANC and its government will take significantly populist policy measures. The best example of this was in July 2002, when exaggerated targets for black equity participation in the mining sector where leaked and R52b left the JSE resources sector in 72 hours – a buying opportunity of note. However, the traction Julius Malema was able to achieve with disaffected youth post-2009 and the implicit defection from the ANC and its allies in the platinum strikes last year have catapulted the ANC into something of a policy scrabble. While nationalisation is off the agenda, it has been replaced by a policy push that hopes to deploy private companies, through regulation and other forms of pressure, to achieve government (and party) targets of employment, revenue generation, service delivery to local communities and infrastructure build. Increases in the tax take look likely – it’s purely a question of ‘how much the market can bear’.
Government intervention, per se, is less the issue here but rather the confused, generalised and uncertain nature and intent of the interventions. If the interventions do not have the desired results (growth, employment and equality), the risk is that government does not reassess the wisdom of the intervention, but instead uses a heavier hand.
Financial markets: Policy uncertainty puts downward pressure on investment, employment and output in all sectors. In South Africa, these negative impacts will be felt most keenly by companies most exposed to government licencing and regulatory power, or most exposed to government’s political prioritisation. Resources, telecommunications and agriculture all fall into one, or both, of these categories.
Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event
Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium-to-long duration (five to seven years).
What it’s about: Significant and consistent (apparently linear) growth in service delivery protests, combined with growing levels of industrial unrest (in 2012, anyway) seem to imply that such unrest could continue to escalate until it reaches a point of ‘phase state change’ (as in thermodynamics, referring to changing states of matter – to/from solid, liquid and gas). Thus, the risk is of a sudden systemic shift from unstable to revolutionary/insurrectionary.
My view: Increasing protest and industrial unrest are normal – and fairly consistent – features of South African political life and have been since at least the mid-1970s. Even before 1994 there was no real expectation that unrest would lead naturally to insurrection. A rapid phase state change, like an Arab-spring type event, requires (perhaps indirectly) contesting political formations and ideologies as well as the widespread failure – or absence – of social institutions (parliaments, courts) that direct, mediate and give expression to grievances and/or conflicting group interests. South Africa is rich in such institutions and there is no evidence that large groups of dissenting voices have permanently failed to find expression in society’s normal processes and institutions – even when some of those processes include robust forms of public dispute. However, South Africa does have some comparable features to countries that have had ‘Tunisia-moments’ – including high and growing youth unemployment, high levels of visible inequality and serious government corruption – so we would keep an eye on the escalating ‘service delivery protest’ trends, as evidenced in graphs from Municipal IQ below.
Industrial relations unrest is slightly different from – and more negative than – the question of social unrest as a whole. Trade unions are strong and growing in South Africa, and contestation between them is vigorous, even violent – as we saw in the platinum sector in 2012. Trade unions are businesses with an enticing annuity income flow – and this will drive their contestation. The collective bargaining system in South Africa is functioning sub-optimally for a number of reasons – including inappropriately high levels at which automatic recognition kicks in – and the disarray in the system also drives unrest. This conjunction of subjective and objective conditions means I am less sanguine about industrial relations stability (than about stability per se) and expect this to remain a negative investment feature for the next several years. I am specifically negative on public sector industrial relations stability for 2013.
Thus, I do not think unrest and social discord will lead to any radical policy or political discontinuities, but will remain a constant drain on confidence. I also think this phenomenon will tempt government into keeping spending (on the public sector wage bill and on social grants) at above-inflation levels – helping to feed uncertainty and unpredictability in state finances, inflation, the currency and the bond markets.
Additionally, I think labour unrest will remain a seriously destabilising factor of production – including via disruption of services in public sector strikes.
Resources, agriculture and construction are most exposed through their reliance on large, aggregated and often low-skilled/low-pay labour forces. The financial services and retail are less exposed to (but not immune to) the negative effects of industrial action.
Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space
Serious risk. Medium-likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
What it’s about: The ruling party is facing something of its own ‘fiscal cliff’. The ANC feels itself in danger of losing some support because of failure to deliver employment growth or adequate reductions in poverty and inequality. Foreign investors agree this is a risk, but will not necessarily agree to fund the gap. This tension is among the reasons that all three major rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded SA’s sovereign rating in 2012 (Fitch in January this year) and both Moody’s and S&P put SA on watch list for future downgrades. The ANC secures political support, at least in part, through spending on the public sector wage bill and on social grants – which together now make up more than half of annual non-interest government spending. Additionally, the ANC has occasionally shown itself hostage to the views of its alliance partners or popular opinion in its spending and revenue plans (Gauteng toll-roads, youth wage subsidy). The ratings agencies don’t like the tension and I expect the bond markets won’t either.
My view: South Africa maintains respectable debt-to-GDP ratios, although these grew to 39% of GDP by end-2012, substantially higher than the 34% for emerging and developing economies as a whole. When Fitch downgraded SA earlier this year, it specifically mentioned concerns about SA’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio, given that the ratio is higher (and rising at a faster pace) than the country’s peers.
South Africa is uniquely (eg in relation to its BRICS peers) exposed to foreign investor sentiment through the deficit on the current account combined with liquid and deep fixed interest markets. SA’s widening deficit on the current account is a specific factor that concerns the rating agencies and is one of the metrics the agencies will use to assess SA’s sovereign risk in the near future. Further downgrades are the risk – potentially driven by foreign investor sentiment about political risks. Non-investment grade (junk bond status) is not an inconceivable future rating.
Financial markets: A significant sell-off in the rand, coupled with persistent currency volatility and reduced foreign capital inflows. Traditionally this scenario would mean investors look for rand hedges and attempt to get exposure to export-orientated sectors, including manufacturing – and to stay out of the bond market. Offshore borrowing costs will be raised for domestic companies – as well as for the country as a whole. This risk has an internal feedback loop (downgrades make debt more difficult to pay, leading to further downgrades) and naturally feeds other political risks, including in relation to taxation, clumsy government intervention, social stability and property rights.
By the way “deep blue” in the headline was not meant to be a riff on IBM’s chess playing supercomputer.
Rereading Part 1 I can see how someone might accuse me of being a little too certain about the shape of the future. I am not running “deep blue” regressions and algorithms, modelling South Africa and the world, generating predictions x of y % accuracy with z % error margins … South … Africa … will … be … peachy … in …2021 … bidledeebidledee beep.
I have no real idea of what is going to happen in the future – and only the bare bones of an idea of the internal processes I go through to develop the views I advance here.
From time to time I investigate how we predict outcomes, and how we asses risks. I am interested in how our evolved systems (honed against sabre-toothed tigers and uncertain rainfall patterns, for example) apply in the kind of technology driven mega-societies we now inhabit – or, specifically, don’t apply i.e. that our ‘instinctive systems’ need to be suppressed or countermanded if we hope to get it right in certain situations. But that is not what I am doing in these quick pre-Mangaung notes.
The “deep blue” of the headline was actually a reference to being bleak, sad, cold and lonely.
Which leads me to:
Who are the demagogic populist, proto-fascists* now?
The ANC will (initially) combat the threat of losing support by becoming more ‘demagogic populist’, rural conservative and based in the lumpen classes – basically, by drifting to the right
In December 2010 I wrote an article in GQ Magazine under the headline: “Can you hear the drums?” with a concluding paragraph that read:
In the year 2010, anger and resentment … bubbled over … The winners still have their stuff, but they are clutching it more tightly to their chests, and for the first time in 16 years they are straining for the hint, a sound or a smell, of what might be coming for them out of the night.
Read the whole story here.
Two ‘crises’ (or warnings) that occured this year are the equivalent of the scary sound of drums in the night for the incumbent ANC elite. The first warning is Marikana and the second, linked, warning is the traction Julius Malema’s manipulative populism was able to achieve amongst some sections of the disenfranchised youth.
I made some of these links in my coverage of Marikana here.
I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional
Leaders Courts Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here and here.)
Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state), the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’ (as I argued in Part 1).
This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these.
Initially the ANC might get even higher turnout at its rallies (especially with free food and t-shirts and sexy young people dancing between the rabble-rousing and the singing of Umshini wami). But eventually the class and demographic changes of the society impact upon the party – reformat it, split it, renew it … change the political ecology in which it moves and feeds.
You will see from my next post that I do not only think the ANC is a useless bubble of foul smelling gas buffeted on the sea of history. The ANC, in my analysis, has become a most significant and material influence for and against my upbeat scenario … a sort of deranged midwife at the happy birth.
* The term “demagogic populists, proto-fascist” is from various SACP documents and was code for Julius Malema (and, I suspect, in slightly early versions, a code for Tokyo Sexwale). This is what the SACP had to say about it:
The “new tendency”
It was the SACP at the 2009 Special National Congress that first identified clearly the ideological and underlying class character of what we called the “new tendency”. We described it as a populist, bourgeois nationalist ideological tendency, with deeply worrying demagogic, proto-fascist features. It was the SACP that pointed out the connections between the public face and pseudo-militant rhetoric of this tendency and its behind-the-scenes class backing. It was a tendency funded and resourced by narrow BEE elements still involved in a rabid primitive accumulation process, based on a parasitic access to state power. It was a bourgeois nationalist tendency that sought to mobilize a populist mass base, particularly amongst a disaffected youth, to act as the shock troops to advance personal accumulation agendas.
The SACP must feel free to pat itself on the back, but the reality is that party took on the straw man of Kebble/Malema/Sexwale and backed – to the hilt – the real demagogic, proto-fascist tendency – the one with real power … and the one with real patronage to dispense. (That last bit explaining why this SACP has backed the Nkandla Crew)
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:
- The failure of Num created space for the rise of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
… 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.
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.
Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza provides the lead headline in today’s Business Day as “warning of a rogue state future for SA”.
So imagine if you could, for a moment, that you are playing a sports game.
As in a dream, you suddenly realise you don’t know the rules; you don’t know how to score, who’s on your side or what the parameters of the field are.
This could be a comical situation – and I am sure I remember boys from my school days whose mystification on the rugby, cricket or hockey fields would bring a gentle smile to our (his team mates’) faces.
But this is also the stuff of nightmares: an inscrutable world where what happens happens for reasons entirely mysterious, where people are motivated by incomprehensible impulses and the dread of the unknown builds and builds.
I am sure I am not alone in having worked in a dysfunctional institution?
I mean something worse than a j0b in which you are poorly paid and have a psychopath for a boss (entry level experience requirements for human adulthood as far as I can make out).
A dysfunctional institution is one in which the sum total of what the organisation achieves appears to be at-odds with its explicit mission.
I am suggesting something worse than an organisation that doesn’t achieve what it is designed to achieve. I am suggesting that in some instances a deeply dysfunctional organisation can, when everything is aggregated, achieve the very opposite to its stated purpose is.
Which brings me to the institutions of the South African state.
I am occasionally lucky enough to get hold of some excellent economic commentary written by Sanlam Group Economist Jac Laubscher and published on that company’s website. In his most recent contribution (which appears here) he takes some concepts from Why Nations Fail: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson (book I haven’t yet read, but will do so on the back of Jac’s comments) and hints at how they might be applicable to South Africa.
According to Laubscher, Acemoglu and Robinson suggest that the dominance of “inclusive institutions” over “extractive institutions” is the difference between success or failure of nations.
Inclusive institutions harness and unleash human creativity and incentivise citizens and workers to give of their best.
As Jac Laubscher summarises:
Inclusive institutions are characterised by guaranteed property rights (vital for investment and productivity growth), an impartial legal system that upholds contracts, the effective provision of public services to create a level playing field, space to create new businesses, and the freedom to choose one’s career.
“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:
… are aimed at extracting income and wealth from one section of society to the benefit of another section of society, usually the elite. In fact, extractive political institutions are the means by which the elite enrich themselves and consolidate their political dominance.
It is a fairly simple matter to demonstrate that to some degree key state and semi-state institutions and processes in South Africa have become mechanisms for extracting wealth by the politically connected elite.
But a key qualifier here is “to some degree”. I don’t think the state has yet, unambiguously, become an extractive tool of the political elite. But it is obvious that at least part of the political elite is struggling mightily to shape our institutions to and for that purpose.
Yesterday I listened to Trevor Manuel deliver the National Development Plan to a joint sitting of parliament. At the same time the the Constitutional Court was hearing an application by the Treasury and Sanral to set aside the April interim interdict granted by North Gauteng High Court halting e-tolling and mandating a full review of the system.
My views on both Trevor Manuel and e-tolling are ambiguous – they both have their good and bad points – but I appreciate the subtlety and complexity of what the National Planning Commission has tried to achieve … and I celebrate the fact that we have a Constitutional Court we can trust with decisions like the one it was busy with yesterday*.
But the institutions of our society are not yet the corridors of the predators’ labyrinth – but we’d be foolish to ignore the signs.
* The Concourt matter is important for a number of reasons, but the aspect that interests me professionally, is part of what is happening is driven by the fact that the Treasury feels the need to defend its credibility as a borrower. I suspect that the rating agencies are happy that the Treasury is fighting this matter but are anxious that they might lose. The lender wants to be certain that the entity to whom it lends is properly able to make the agreement to pay the money back. The Treasury is ultimately arguing that the North Gauteng High Court ruling means no lender to the South African government can be sure that the courts might not declare, in effect, that government was legally incompetent to make the decision in the first place – significantly increasing default risk.
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 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 beads or pebbles in the end and two mirrors running lengthways up the inside, duplicating images of the transparent junk that tumbled as it was twisted.
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 wonderous images.
Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.
I am slightly more worried today that I was when I wrote the piece below (from 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.
I think the e-tolling saga is important precisely because my headline bastardising the denouement of John Donne’s famous poem is, in truth, wrong.
Gauteng’s road upgrade does not come for free.
The R20bn was borrowed by Sanral and lent by people and institutions (which) who assessed the risk attached to repayment on the basis that e-tolling was part of the deal.
This is a précis of what I told my clients about some of the political implications:
The North Gauteng High Court granted an urgent interdict on Saturday that will postpone the implementation of e-tolling until as late next year – and perhaps contribute to stopping it completely.
At this stage the court has ordered a full review of the process that will probably take at least two months to complete. If the court rules that e-tolling can go ahead the appeals process, all the way to the Constitutional Court, can take up to two years.
There are a number of significant risks associated with this decision .
The National Treasury itself, during the course of legal arguments, predicted dire consequences for South Africa’s sovereign risk rating and for public finances more generally.
I think they exaggerated but one could hardly blame them. The Treasury is the custodian of the public purse and its officials and political head carry the responsibility if R20bn that will no longer be raised from tolling has to be dug out from somewhere.
But the ruling is important for a deeper reason. South Africa, according to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address (and confirmed by a number of government and ANC statements in the last few months) is engaged in an infrastructure programme that is expected to cost just short of R1 trillion over the next 8 years.
This is the biggest bet for anyone hoping to invest in the country for the next ten years. Will it happen or will it – again – fizzle?
At least part of the funding model for this infrastructure programme is the ’user pays’ system established in the planning of the Gauteng highway upgrade project. In general, I think a user pays system is a more efficient – and fairer – system of allocating capital than unwieldy central plans that draw on the central tax pile.
Further, private sector lenders funded the project on the basis of the collection of user fees – this is how they did their calculations and assessed their risk. The ruling effects government’s credibility as a borrower.
Chris Hart (economist at Investment Solutions) is reported to have dismissed this saying the delay is no big deal – less than 0.2% of planned government expenditure this year. Goolam Ballim (chief economist at Standard Bank) said if there was a contractual infringement impacting on Sanral’s ability to pay, it did not imply sovereign default risk and “will not compromise South Africa’s international credit standing in any way”.
Now those two economists are no slouches – and know more about our public finances and the basis that the rating agencies changes the investment grades of our government bonds than I ever will – but surely it is obvious that there is a degree of damage to government (and Sanral’s) credibility as a borrower? Perhaps not as much as the Treasury argued during the urgent application. But we are coming up for strike season, the Treasury has promised to hold the line on public sector wage increases, the budget is under immense pressure and R20bn is not a meaninglessly small amount.
The whole of the South African government looks weak – with the Treasury and the Department of Transport being the most obviously and immediately affected. Both are “studying the ruling” before making public statements. These issues might not swing Standard & Poor, Fitch or Moody’s against SA bonds, but there is no question that this ruling will be part of their assessment.
The risks are clearer when we look at the political back-story. There is a changed political configuration in the Ruling Alliance. The rise of Jacob Zuma was characterised by an already growing influence of Cosatu on policy making. A Thabo Mbeki led ANC would have taken a much stronger line against Cosatu’s campaign against e-tolling and would have stood much more firmly behind the Treasury’s arguments in favour. I am not necessarily cheering for that side, but I do think the Zuma administration is beholden to Cosatu in a manner that limits its options in public finance – and that limitation is being set by a very narrow interest group.
Cosatu has – as is its wont at the moment – been tactically brilliant in this campaign. It has built a classic broad front, multi-class alliance against the e-tolls and has strengthened the group made up of Zwelinzima Vavi, Irvin Jim and Numsa on the one hand and weakened the group made up of Sdumo Dlamini (Cosatu President) Frans Baleni and Num on the other. See here for more discussion on the relevant factional splits within Cosatu.
The gravitational centre of the Alliance is only weakly occupied by Zuma and “the left” in Cosatu has been able to shift the whole edifice towards itself. This is a trend that we will have to keep a close eye on during the lead-up to Mangaung, when the Zuma administration is likely to be at its most docile and weak.
And it is in this environment that Cosatu has taken on e-tolling as ‘privatisation by stealth’ and an infrastructure funding method that taps its constituency too directly. Cosatu is a sectional interest group … and is completely entitled to pursue the sectional interests of its employed worker members (employed, by definition, in ‘union jobs - and all strength and luck to them for that advantage’.)
The most important signifier issue will be how government deals with public sector wage demands over the next few months. It’s strike season, and I mentioned elsewhere, Gordhan’s budget only balanced because of the hard line he took against public sector wage increases.
To give you a sense of why that is important, this is what I said about the budget and public sector wages on February the 23rd:
Public sector wages: This is the area, to our (I wrote this with economist Sandra Gordon) mind, of least credibility with the most consequence:
Total Compensation % of total budget % yoy 2009/10 248558.0 31.8 17.7 2010/11 281619.2 33.6 13.3 2011/12 314907.2 33.9 11.8 2012/13 336959.4 33.5 7.0 2013/14 357168.2 32.7 6.0 2014/15 378148.7 32.1 5.9
Adjusted for inflation those figures in bold are heading towards zero – and remember we are talking about over 30% of the total. The public sector wage bill was R8,1bn more than budgeted for in 2011/12 and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the whole edifice of the budget could crumble on this point.
So what? … Public sector unions set the tone for industrial bargaining throughout the economy. Our main scenario, in which 2012/13 becomes an industrial relations blood-bath, is looking ever more likely – although we await, with interest, Cosatu’s formal response to Budget 2012. This proposed spending shift – if Zuma’s ANC can hold the line – is also supportive of our construction and investment relative to consumer equity theme – with the consumer sector keeping a “look-in” by social grants increases from R105bn in 2012/2013 to R122bn 2014/15 and the promise to reassess if inflation rises further.
So the e-tolling is an ongoing threat to public finances and it is an indicator issue of how beholden … and therefore weak … Zuma’s leadership is.
But there is an upside to this story. The ANC and Cosatu did agree to postpone e-tolling after their meeting last week – and announced that they had instructed government to do this (revealingly issuing a hastily retracted statement saying they would, in fact “request government to postpone”).
But the real upside is that it wasn’t, ultimately, political weakness or fiscal slippage that led to the cancelling of e-tolling. It was judicial sensitivity to popular opposition and an assertion of the principle of the rule of law.
You will be able to tell by reading between the lines that I think e-tolling was actually the right approach, but it is clear that an unaccountable system, that never bothered to consult the public properly and that, in addition, has badly damaged its own credibility in as far as corruption and maladministration is concerned, was defeated by a judge determined to uphold legal accountability and respect for popular discontent.
It might make the Treasury’s job more difficult and it might create uncertainties about funding infrastructure development, but it has got to be positive for the South African democracy as a whole.
In a Woolworths queue in the Gardens Centre yesterday evening I idly picked up the Cape Argus.
It’s the only time I actually read anything in that newspaper.
I like to casually glance at its headlines during my journey from the beginning of the endless tunnel of
sweats sweets (damn morning rush) and magazines. I then stash it amongst the heap of chocolate boats stuffed with Smarties right before the tills.
I commit two very mild acts of corporate activism when I do this.
I admonish The Argus for plastering Cape Town with interesting and clever billboards that inevitably refer to puerile and ridiculously provincial – and badly written – stories.
And I wrist-slap Woolworths for having made me carry my then small children through that tunnel after a long day of shopping – an experience that still makes me shudder.
Okay, these are not very militant acts; more mild criticism of two old and venerable institutions that I feel great affection for but believe would benefit from the occasional slap.
Anyway, the cover story on The Argus shocked me rigid – such that I barely noticed the passing array of Magnum Ice-creams and left-over chocolate father Christmases calling out to me and the small squalling children being pushed by their exhausted mothers through Infanticide Row.
Government is proposing to fine South Africans who give unsanctioned weather and pollution warnings - ten years in jail or a R10 million fine (catch the full text of the South African Weather Service Amendment Bill here.)
I got it immediately.
You can’t have amateur forecasters spreading panic and despair because they had seen fluctuations in their crystals and spirit catchers … or because choppy surf with a curling left-break at Glen Beach means Durbs is gonna be hit by cyclones, dude … or whatever.
But as I was passing the tubs of sour worms it dawned on me that all forecasting should be controlled. You can’t have every blogger and his parrot predicting the unfolding sovereign debt crises in Europe, the US presidential elections, the possibility of a US/Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, whether Germany and France will eventually let Greece sink without a trace, whether the Euro will be history this time next year …. the list is endless.
The pronouncements of economists and political analysts and talking heads of all kinds should come with health warnings. Who’s to say they know anything more than anyone else about anything?
But they get asked by television and radio stations and newspapers and they set up blogs …
I dawned on me, but only after a surprisingly long time; somewhere between the sacks of chewy white milky cars and deep piles of You Magazines.
I am a forecaster. I have been quite specific about what I think will happen in the ANC’s debate about mine nationalisation. I have been fairly specific about succession issues in the ANC – both at Polokwane (where I was mostly wrong) and Mangaung (where I will be mostly right) ….
Excuse me? Did you really just say what I think you said?
No. No but seriously – the South African Weather Bureau has scientists with balloons and mysterious beeping machines in places like the Antarctic and Gough Island and a billion information feeds and huge computer models that attempt to get closer and closer to emulating the storm systems driving across from south of South America … and they still fail because they forgot about the butterfly flapping its mysterious wings in Peru.
By the time I punitively stashed The Argus amongst the chocolate tugs stuffed with brightly coloured beads just before the serene Woolworths teller lady I was having a minor existential crisis.
Admittedly not a completely new one – once you have been fairly sure that the ANC would not slip into the hands of the Nkandla Crew at Polokwane you are forever chastened and humbled by the knowledge that the future really is an ever unfolding mystery.
Doesn’t the Julius Malema saga feel so familiar?
Remember how the Jacob Zuma campaign seemed to transform each new obstacle placed in his path into fuel for his political train that eventually steamed triumphant into Polokwane in December 2007?
The fact that he was known far and wide as hopelessly incapable of moderating his sexual behaviour and as being on the take from, at least, Shabir Shaik, seemed to make almost no difference to the eventual outcome … unless the legal and other processes to charge him actually strengthened his claim to the presidency.
He was the victim of Mbeki’s shenanigans and he was heading a column of pro-poor ANC alliance cadres that were coming to take the ANC back from the pro-monopoly capital “1996 class project” – and every deed or word against that was coming from the privileged few defending their privilege. The marching column was irresistible and Polokwane was its destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that seemed to win out.
With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Zuma’s success was all about momentum – and its inevitability is a post hoc construction.
I remember a movie from my childhood where the hero escapes almost certain death (it was either Indiana Jones or one of the Bonds ) by running across about fifty metres of crocodile infested waters by … yes, you guessed it: stepping on the back of each starving crocodile but with such speed that he was on his way to the next one before they snapped at him or sunk.*
That is probably a better metaphor for Zuma’s perilous progress towards Polokwane than the one that has him steaming towards that conference as if it was his manifest destiny. The second post of this blog was called The Accidental President and in it I argued that Zuma’s presidency was a result of an unlikely set of circumstances and he was not a character that many could have previously imagined in the role.
On closer examination it becomes clear that Zuma, on several occasions, almost crashed and burned – and came close to going to prison. Ultimately it was only the forward momentum of his campaign that allowed him to escape the snapping crocodiles at his heals.
In fact, I would put it even more strongly: for Jacob Zuma the only way to avoid ignominy and prison was to win the presidency.
And that is where the comparison with Julius Malema becomes so compelling – especially in his weekend attempt to boost the Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime campaign into the mouths and minds of the genuinely marginalised and poverty-stricken in places like Diepsloot and Bantu Bonke.
Just as his disciplinary hearing comes to a head.
Just as his questionable personal finances start to be ‘put to the question’ by various authorities.
Just as he prepares to lead the marches on the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
He told those audiences: “They [the whites] found us here. They did not bring any land nor did they bring any minerals.”
And: “”We are here for every one of you. We will not rest until you stop worrying about where your next meal will come from.”
Woven into every word and phrase is the argument that the incumbent leadership of the ANC has failed the poor. That Julius Malema’s fight against Jacob Zuma is actually a fight to have the needs of the poor and dispossessed met.
Can Julius Malema, engorged as he and his comrades apparently are from sucking the marrow from the bones of Limpopo’s (amongst others)
public purse skeletal public finances (some bad metaphors are impossible to fix – ed) hope to pull off this audacious argument?
Clearly he can.
Clearly he is betting on himself to be sitting up in the cab of a triumphant train steaming into Mangaung; to have turned all obstacles aside and spun the narrative of the little guy standing up against the incumbents, standing up for the poor and dispossessed.
The parallels are not perfect. Julius Malema is not the apex of a push for the presidency of the ANC – he is too young, untested and controversial to aspire to those lofty heights this time around. He is rather part of the campaign of other powerful contenders – although he hopes to be nested near the centre of a new ruling configuration of the ANC.
Finally, Zuma had the backing of the SACP, Cosatu and a host of ANC democrats exhausted by Mbeki’s stale centralism – as well as a swathe of aspirant BEE wannabes who felt excluded from the previous gravy train.
Julius Malema (and those who hope to benefit from his campaigning) have nothing like the mighty alliance of those disaffected by Mbeki’s presidency.
After yesterday’s radical cabinet reshuffle and Zuma’s apparent ability to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption and responsive president I would have to bet on the incumbents and against the invaders at the castle gate.
This is the week, however, when Malema’s gamble will either pay off or fail. On Wednesday his disciplinary hearing resumes. On Thursday and Friday the marches on the JSE and the Chamber of Mines will take place.
This is not an accident of timing.
This is about planning, planning by individuals and groups with large appetites for risk – especially when the prize is so rich and the price of failure so high.
*I have a terrible feeling that someone has used that metaphor for Zuma’s march to Polokwane before … so let me apologise in advance if I stole it … and while on the textual commentary – I found this in Wikipedia while trying to check if the image had, in fact, been used for Polokwane before:
“Ross Kanaga as James Bond used four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot.The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passed over them.”