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I will get on to the weighty question of whether Jacob Zuma might retire before his term of office is completed momentarily, but first let me mention that I have been busy with what started as an idle rumination about the South African Communist Party.

But has turned, inevitably perhaps, to “become persistent and recurrent worrying or brooding” (from the third meaning for ‘rumination’ given in the link above.)

I am at a serious disadvantage when assessing the SACP. Unlike many of my readers I was always an admirer of the party – well, certainly in the bad old days of the struggle against apartheid.

Slightly more difficult to explain is that I am still moved by Billy Bragg singing The Red Flag, and the pleasure I once took at the same artist (or perhaps another, even Google can’t nail it for me) singing a song that went something like “Stalin wasn’t stalling, when he told the Beast of Berlin, that we’d never rest contented, till we’d driven him from the land.”

So I am hard wired, deep in my political DNA, to not think ill of the SACP – which is why the party riding Jacob Zuma to power, its dogged defence of the President’s most unsettling activity and much of the threatening sloganeering and bullying that gets published as Red Alerts on Umsebenzi Online have had me at a real analytical loss.

I have provisionally titled the post: “O SACP, SACP! wherefore art thou SACP?” It wanders around a bit, speculating wherefore, actually when you get right down to it, art the SACP? There are various asides of a semi-personal, even light hearted, nature – but the path of my meander has definitely darkened and right now I feel I am, metaphorically speaking, in a gloomy forest and the growing stench suggests there is a poisoned well somewhere up ahead.

So I have decided to take a bit more time and care on that.

Meanwhile here are some of my recent comments (sent to clients on the 3rd of this month) about the increasingly widely discussed matter of the future of Jacob Zuma.

Jacob Zuma – will he stay, will he go and does it matter? 

My basic view of the question in the title is:

  • Jacob Zuma is more likely to retire early that I have considered previously.
  • There is wide variation in the quality of South African politics, administration and government, with awful, mediocre and excellent aspects. This variation will not be overwhelmed or overdetermined by whether Zuma stays or goes – although it would also be incorrect to suggest it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
  • In general I would assert that Jacob Zuma is as much a symptom of the problems as he is a cause of them – although I would, if someone held a gun to my head, go with 60% symptom, 40% cause (I had it the other way around when I sent this out initially, but that was just my dyslexia playing havoc: Zuma is less the architect of history than history is the architect of Zuma – no Nkandla pun intended).
  • Additionally, Jacob Zuma’s term of office would end in 2019 anyway and his replacement would be elected ANC President at the 2017 national conference. We are, at most, not much more than a year off knowing (or having a pretty strong idea) who the likely replacement of Jacob Zuma will be even if he (Zuma) serves out his full second term.
  • However, unexpected transitions can be destabilising, especially if the incumbent has much to lose if he loses (like going to prison, losing some of his and his family’s accumulated assets and having his powerful political network’s continued asset accumulation threatened – just to take a few arbitrary and hypothetical example of why such a persons going might be a messy business).

However, I am of the opinion that the question is worth considering, but we need to get some of our methodology right first:

This is a future event and as such it is uncertain and unpredictable. There is no acceptable methodology (that I understand or can use)  that can reliably (academically, empirically, scientifically) give a probability estimate as to the potential outcomes.

It is crucial to avoid the trap of predicting a particular outcome and then assembling the evidence to support it – and, further, attempting to defend the prediction over time as ‘the facts’ move against it.

We need an adequate reason to believe the outcome is important, not important or somewhere in between – or all of these things at once , with this last choice being the one I would probably go for.)

The past (Zuma’s survival against the odds up until now) is not a predictor that he will survive the confluence of events. If that argument held weight, then we should argue that nobody alive today will die because they haven’t died up until now – I attempt to fill-out this assertion under “Jacob Zuma, the survivor” below.

Normative reasoning is acceptable, but we need to be conscious of doing it when we do it. In this case my ‘normative’ assumption is that a successful and calm succession completed before Zuma’s term of office expires in 2019 would be a ‘good thing’, perhaps even a precondition for the reestablishment of political stability and financial market trust in the bona fides of government (and lower risk levels in the geography and assets administered by the South African state). However, as I mentioned previously, I think this is a necessary not sufficient condition for such improvements.

Jacob Zuma, the survivor

It is being argued repeatedly   that Zuma is the quintessential survivor, that he has the ANC and its National Executive Committee wrapped up, that he demonstrated this again at Mangaung in December 2012 (see here for a persuasive  example). I do not disagree with these assertions. But to accept that argument as complete we must establish that there are no new facts or new elements that might impact upon that assumed outcome.

Much has changed (both in fact and in my interpretation of the facts) over the last 18 months:

  • The alliance of forces that backed and defended Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane has disintegrated. Crucially Julius Malema is now heading a hostile opposition party energetically represented in parliament and Cosatu is undergoing an on-going collapse – and it’s biggest union Numsa is in the process of setting up a socialist political movement that has as one of its founding principles that Jacob Zuma is the epitome of the corrupt and disastrous leadership cadre that have hijacked the ANC and the country (this is Numsa’s – and Malema’s/EFF’s – oft expressed view, not mine.) These are the very people and institutions that where the centre of the campaign that brought Zuma to power. (The SACP is pretty much ‘the last man standing’, which is what has led me to look more  closely at the whys and wherefores of that phenomenon.)
  • I am under the impression, but am unable to ‘prove’, that key elements and individuals of Jacob Zuma’s support base in Kwazulu-Natal are starting to  hedge their bets and keeping open the possibility of shifting their support to either Zweli Mkhize (ANC national treasurer and previous KZN premier) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Current AU chair with too many other credentials in SA politics and government to begin to list). Both these candidates would be acceptable to the powerful (dominant?) KZN ANC. I cannot be certain if this is “true”, but this is my impression.
  • There are signs (rapid apparent weight loss, increased ‘time off’) and widespread speculation that Jacob Zuma’s health is an issue in play. Again I cannot ‘prove’ this – that would require his confidential medical records, amongst other things – but there are many circumstantial supporting elements that I have discussed several times elsewhere.
  • The linked controversies around Jacob Zuma, the allegation that he has improperly allowed the Gupta brothers to capture important aspects of the state and government, that he has abused public finances to build his Nkandla home, the various allegations around the Arms Deal scandal, with reference to convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik, (and the attendant ‘spy tapes’ scandal), the infiltration and destruction of the National Prosecuting Authority, the similar damage and modality of damage done the various structures of national intelligence as well as crime intelligence – all apparently in an attempt to protect Zuma from the legal consequences of his actions are starting to cause serious strain for the ANC.
  • The losses of 11% of voting support in the ANC’s most sophisticated middle class electoral constituency in the economic heartland of Gauteng in May this year and the serious worry by the Gauteng ANC that this damage might deepen in the 2016 local government election. The assumption (that I share) is that at least part of this is because of the myriad scandals surrounding Zuma.
  • The noisy disruption of Parliament by the EFF in an attempt to get Zuma to account to the public and to Parliament for Nkandla expenditure … and the degree of national embarrassment that surrounds this.
  • There has been a coup (which has now degenerated into a volatile stalemate) against the Lesotho government which had just issued the Gupta brothers with diplomatic passports. This both exposes the degree to which the Guptas have captured key political institutions in South and southern Africa, but also that that capturing is being exposed and challenged all over the place and the most significant person most publicly connected to the Gupta brothers is Jacob Zuma.
  • Jacob Zuma has just visited Russia, alone and forlorn, and in a manner and context that appears to me that he is the supplicant – when logic dictates that Putin should have been the supplicant.

The future, scenarios and consequences

  • Zuma may well survive to see out his term but the facts suggest that the possibility of outcomes different from that are rising, and must be seriously considered.
  • Zuma’s health could deteriorate and he could be forced out of office (this is a risk with any leader at any time but is raised with regard to Jacob Zuma for the reasons discussed previously)
  •  The ANC, suffering the myriad consequences of Jacob Zuma’s myriad failings, might be finally moved to attempt to move him out. The ruling party could do this by promising him security in Nkandla and immunity from prosecution. It is by no means clear that the ANC could summon the leadership capacity to undertake such a manoeuvre and it is unlikely that the National Executive Committee of the ANC, for now completely beholden to Jacob Zuma for jobs, position and access, would be the instrument that could initiate such a manoeuvre. But just because I can’t come up with a mechanism which might bring about such a change does not mean that that change will not happen (although I do accept that the arguments here would be more interesting if I was able to give a plausible and new mechanism for such a change.)
  • If there were a sudden ‘run’ on Zuma, if his apparent weakness suddenly became more visible, his supporters would vanish like the morning mist. There is no cadre of leaders and supporters waiting in the wings to set up a version of the Cope political party that Mbeki’s supporters established after Mbeki was fired.
  • There are a number of potential successors to Jacob Zuma, the prospects of whom I have assessed on a number of different occasions. To the two I have mentioned earlier in this note, add Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete – and, as a safe pair of hands, stalwart stand-in Kgalema Motlanthe. Any of these candidates would be acceptable to the electorate, to the ANC and to financial markets, although each group, and probably each individual within each group, might have his or her specific preference.
  • Power vacuums and unexpected transitions can be destabilising and risky and can be accompanied by wild swings in financial markets. It is important to keep the possibility of this in mind. This is not the same as saying: ‘this is happening’ … or even: ‘this is more likely to happen than not’. It is purely saying this is more likely to happen than I previously thought and it is worth keeping in mind.

A useful critique of thinking around this issue was published by a senior ex-intelligence officer Andre Zaaiman a few days ago. Catch that here … you might be able to see that we spoke about the issue over a cup of coffee before either of us wrote about it.

 

… which I entirely doubt will be made glorious summer by this sun of KZN when he gives his 5th nth State of the Nation Address this evening.

I am not, as my children might have said, very amped for this.

The only ray of light so far (I am watching on eNCA) was a brief interview with Floyd Shivambu who suggested it should be a ‘state of the resignation address’ … that if the President couldn’t make it to the Cabinet Lekgotla ‘then it would be best for him to just come here to explain that he is just too old and tired and to say goodbye’ – or words to that effect.

I thought I would use the time to publish some bits and pieces that I have sent to my clients over the last week.

The winter of our discontent – as the labour relations cycle meets a secular trend

Every year at this time South Africa is engulfed in strikes as annual wage agreements are traditionally renegotiated in several sectors of the economy. Every year analysts and journalists pontificate widely about the dire labour relations conditions – and the gloom deepens because this all takes place in winter.

Three factors this year are probably going to make the outlook more negative and threatening.

Firstly, the post national election winter has, since 1994, been characterised by spikes in service delivery protests. The causes of this phenomenon are not fully understood, but it is likely that:

  • voters confronting a hostile winter and declining services levels – so soon after being promised the earth by politicians – are likely to be unsettled;
  • local politicians who failed to make party lists begin mobilising factional support, perhaps to stand as candidates in 2016 local government elections, perhaps to discredit those whose positions they covet.

Secondly, the platinum strike is being driven by a number of ‘political’ factors – as discussed previously.

Thirdly Numsa is showing clear signs that its political aspirations are, as we predicted, going to drive deeper and more robust strikes and labour unrest. One sign is the growing violence as Numsa attempts to widen its action at the Ngqura container terminal in the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth.  The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (a Cosatu union) is opposing the Numsa strike and is calling for its members to stay at work at the Transnet facility. However, both Transnet and Satawu were quoted on radio (SAFM 20h00 news broadcast 08/06/2014) as decrying the burning of houses and cars of the workers who were at work. The SATAWU spokesperson warned that the situation had similar dynamics to those that were present in the platinum sector in 2012 – that this ‘is just like what happened with Amcu (same broadcast).

Additionally, Numsa is preparing to lead 220,000 workers out on strike from the metals and engineering sector next month. “The bargaining negotiations have spectacularly failed to produce the desired outcomes as expected by the thousands of our members in the sector,” spokesman Castro Ngobese said in a statement quoted in The Herald (5/06/2014). Numsa’s core demands includes a 15% pay rise and a one-year bargaining agreement, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa, which represents 23 employer associations) has offered an inflation-linked increase of 6.1 percent.

So what?

This is the cycle meeting the secular trend, with each driving the other deeper than either would have been driven ordinarily. Numsa is in the  process of breaking away from Cosatu and is beginning to vigorously compete with other Cosatu unions in overlapping sectors (container terminals, the big electricity generation projects and down and upstream mining and metallurgy operations).  This is, at least partly, about Numsa preparing to set up a ‘left’ party to compete for votes in the future. Comparable (but not identical) dynamics are driving the platinum strike. A winter with ‘normally’ increased social and industrial unrest will probably become unusually bleak and unwelcoming in the months ahead. The impact on GDP growth and on the possibility of ratings downgrades are both important considerations.

 

X Rated

Both Fitch and Standard & Poor made references on Friday (13/06/2014) to increased political risk when they changed their views on the South African government’s willingness and ability to pay the sovereign debt.

Fitch revised the outlook for South Africa to negative from stable and affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings at BBB and BBB+ respectively. S&P downgraded both the country’s local and foreign currency ratings by one notch from A- to BBB+ and BBB to BBB-  respectively, but moved its outlook negative to stable. None of this is a catastrophe  but of interest to us here is the central role of ‘politics’ in the given reasons for both Fitch’s and S&P’s changes.

Fitch says it most baldly in the press release announcing the change in outlook (my emphasis added):

“Following its election victory in May with 62% of the vote, the African National Congress government faces a challenging task to raise the country’s growth rate and improve social conditions, which has been made more difficult by the weaker growth performance and deteriorating trends in governance and corruption. This will require an acceleration of structural reforms, such as those set out in the comprehensive National Development Plan (NDP). In Fitch’s view, the track record of some key ministerial appointments and shortcomings in administrative capacity mean this is subject to downside risks.”

Fitch gives amongst the key drivers of its more negative outlook: “Increased strike activity, high wage demands and electricity constraints represent negative supply side shock.”

Standard and Poor’s downgrade was similarly motivated but adds some additional concerns:

“While we think that President Jacob Zuma’s newly elected administration will continue the policies of his first administration, which controlled fiscal expenditure and fostered broadly stable prices, we do not believe it will manage to undertake major labor or other economic reforms that will significantly boost GDP growth”.

My initial take on the new Cabinet is supportive of these motivations.

In addition both agencies made extensive reference to the negative industrial relations environment – and the negative impacts on GDP growth and government revenues. There is a significant political dimension driving industrial unrest – as I have argued above.

So what?

The validity of the actual ratings and ratings outlook of these agencies is much disputed[1] but the issues they use to motivate their views are interesting because they (the agencies) are cautious; clinging to a sort of ‘average view’ of investors. So if political criticism makes its way into the text (as is the case in both these instances) we are obliged to consider that these may represent, or may come to represent, a general view in markets.

South Africa has a small open economy and liquid financial markets and the difference that policy makers can make to economic outcomes is limited. But even within those limitations too many political choices (certain cabinet appointments, corruption controls, delivery performance and the honest brokering of labour contestation) are either not helping or are actively negative.

[1]No-one could have failed to notice the excoriating criticism of the credit rating agencies (CRAs) after their generalised failure to accurately assess the risks associated with the collateralised debt obligations allegedly because they were mostly issued by the CRAs biggest paying clients! However, it is the opposite with sovereigns: “It has also been suggested that the credit agencies are conflicted in assigning sovereign credit ratings since they have a political incentive to show they do not need stricter regulation by being overly critical in their assessment of governments they regulate.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_rating_agency (accessed 13h56 16/06/2014.

 

The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions

I  dealt with this issue last week, but it is making bigger and more anxiety provoking headlines than ever.

So what

The NDPP was drawn into the fight between Mbeki and Zuma and since that time has limped along to the rhythm of one or other faction aligned to competing interests within the ANC seizing or losing power in the institution. This is not a situation in which one could safely choose one set of ‘good guys’ and back them against another set of ‘bad guys’. The situation is complex but relates primarily to the on-going struggle to either ensure that certain senior political leaders are brought to justice or to ensure that they are not.

The NDPP is one of the most important institutions of the justice system, and without certainty and stability here it is impossible to have certainty about the operating environment for any business in the country. This is a serious problem and it appears to be getting worse under the current administration.

 

Platinum Strike

(This is a bit dated, but you might be interested in my rude remarks about the new minister.)

“Government is ready to wash its hands of the protracted wage strike by platinum mineworkers in Rustenburg” according to the Sunday Independent 08/06/2014. Mines minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi threatened to pull out his inter-ministerial task team if a settlement was not reached at the last scheduled government facilitated meeting, which is due to take place today.

In addition, a formal ANC statement delivered by Gwede Mantashe at a press conference in Luthuli House in Johannesburg last night after the ANC weekend lekgotla[1] characterised the strike in a way that seemed to destroy the remote possibility that Ramatlhodi could have made a difference anyway:

“The articulation of AMCU position by white foreign nationals, signalling interest of the foreign forces in the distabilisation (sic) of our economy.

The direct participation of EFF in the negotiations, and thus collaboration with the foreign forces.

These two factors led the lekgotla into cautioning the Ministry of Mineral Resources in handling the facilitation with care. There were questions about the role of the state in workplace disputes where there are clear rules guiding it.”

This statement is interesting precisely because it borders on the bizarre

So what

The ANC statement indicates shows just why the new ANC minister cannot be an honest or effective broker in the negotiation – and it is therefore unsurprising that he is preparing to withdraw his team. The ANC is compelled to believe that this strike is only not ‘negotiable’ in the normal manner because the real issues driving it are political  and not about wages at all. The ANC might be correct about the strike being ‘political’ but the party itself is culpable of having politicised the strike by attempting to defend its Num ally against the vigorously growing Amcu, by alienating workers by characterising their union as ‘vigilantes’ and by the ‘Marikana massacre itself.’ s – There was never any real possibility of this government mediating between the parties or influencing the outcome.

 

Concerns about property rights

The South African Institute of Race Relations and AfriBusiness (AfriSake) have recently released warnings about property rights in South Africa. A proper assessment of these warning would require specialist legal opinions, but our own assumptions have long been that the South African Constitution provides adequate protections for private property (see here) and the ANC government is unlikely to risk fiddling with these principles.

However it seems to be a basic due diligence requirement to keep an eye on the risk – perhaps more so since Jacob Zuma spelled out at his Cabinet announcement (reiterating many recent ANC and SACP statements) that we are entering a “more radical” phase of economic transformation.

With this is mind, we reproduce the basic summary of legal concerns AfriBusiness and the South African Institute of Race Relations have raised in their research (note that below is a direct quote from the AfriBusiness statement linked above):

  1. The National Development Plan has as its aim the transfer of 20% of the agricultural land in a district to black recipients, at only 50% of the value as determined by the state (in terms of the Property Valuation Bill).
  2. The verdict of the Constitutional Court in April 2013 in the case of AgriSA v the Minister of Minerals and Energy distinguishes between “deprivation” and “expropriation”. After the verdict the state is able to dispossess and redistribute property, as long as the state does not assume ownership of the property and act (sic) only as custodian.
  3. The Green Paper on Land Reform aims a radical redesign of property rights, with inter alia a type of freehold on land which will drastically limit the rights of owners. Within this context a Land Management Commission is proposed, which will have discretionary powers regarding disputes over title deeds.
  4. The policy proposal by the Minister of Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, for “Strengthening the rights of workers working the land” aims to transfer 50% of the land to the workers, commensurate with their term of service. No compensation will be paid to the owner.
  5. The Expropriation Bill poses that expropriation may be used for the public interest and public goal. The Bill is not only applicable to land but will cover all types of property. Public interest and public goal are determined in an ad hoc manner and both have restitution as aim.
  6. The Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill allows state intervention in investment processes. The Bill explicitly provides for expropriation at less than market value. All in the name of so-called restitution. Any property used for commercial purposes is targeted by the Bill.
  7. The Infrastructure Development Bill aims to eliminate so-called inequalities in infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission is granted the authority to expropriate in the public interest and for the public goal.
  8. The Spatial Planning and Management of Land Use Act aims at centralized planning of land ownership. It proposed so-called spatial justice by integrating low and high cost housing in residential developments.
  9. The Extension of the Security of Tenure Amendment Bill expands the rights of occupants and their dependents. Evictions are strictly controlled and the Amendment Bill means a significant loss in control over property.
  10. The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill creates further political and economic uncertainty regarding the future of property rights.
  11. The Rental Housing Amendment Bill proposes stricter regulation of the rental property market. Rental Tribunals will be established to hear disputes and will be able to determine increases in rent.
  12. The National Water Amendment Bill and Policy Review prohibits the trading of water rights and proposes a use-it-or-lose-it principle for water rights. Equality (including racial transformation) becomes the criterium (sic) for the allocation and re-allocation of water rights.

Consume that with the requisite amount of salt but keep an eye on the detail.

 

[1]Sesotho loan word meaning court or community council meeting; used in the South African context a “lekgotla is a meeting called by government, Cabinet or the ANC to discuss strategy planning”. Wikipedia accessed 04h30 09/06/2014.

 

I am on my way to London to speak to the funds that buy and sell South Africa’s corporate and government bonds i.e. the market that sets the price at which the world is prepared to lend us money.

Daily I become more convinced that the South African political economy is, like quick clay so unstable that when a mass …  is subjected to sufficient stress, the material behavior may transition from that of a particulate material to that of a fluid.” 

The other metaphor I was fiddling with was: all the cards have been thrown in the air and where they will land, nobody knows. (I’m sure there is an elegant song or poem that says something like that, any help there would be appreciated  … that request  is the WordPress equivalent of a  #twoogle - Ed) 

But before I get onto the more lofty questions about the future of life, the universe and everything, I thought I would send you my latest news update – so you can see the gradually building case for my sense that everything has changed. (Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for generously allowing me to republish this – albeit a few days later – here.)

  • A new socialist party appears on the horizon of South African politics … it’s not all good news, but nor is it all bad
  • Murmurs about vote rigging – a leading indicator of political instability 
  • Mining policy meets with surprising levels of push-back from the private sector – in the Business Day at least
  • The future push for the NDP, Hitachi and the ANC, final takes on the budget and why South African telecommunications infrastructure is a very fat golden goose

Numsa confirms it will launch socialist party

The biggest union in the country is effectively in the process of being expelled from the ANC- aligned Cosatu and has announced its intention to establish a party, provisionally to be called the United Front and Movement for Socialism.

“We need a movement for socialism,” general-secretary Irvin Jim told reporters in Johannesburg on Saturday.

He (Jim) continued on to argue that ‘leadership of the national liberation movement as a whole had failed to lead a consistent radical democratic process …’ (Jim paraphrased in numbing detail in SABC Online, Sunday, 2 March 2014, 17h49.)

Numsa has been given seven days (from last Thursday) by the Cosatu NEC to provide reasons why it should not be suspended from the federation. The main issues motivating the suspension are that Numsa has been openly critical of the ANC and the Cosatu leadership and that Numsa has begun competing with, especially, the National Union of Mineworkers, in defiance of Cosatu’ s one-industry-one-union slogan.

So what?

This is unfolding much as predicted. The ANC under Jacob Zuma has decided (or been compelled) to impose discipline on the ruling alliance and force a degree of compliance with the various policies of the ANC and its government. The discipline sought by the ruling group within the ANC is motivated by apparently divergent concerns. On the one hand, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to get the left-wing to stop attacking them (Jacob Zuma and his allies) as corrupt and incompetent. On the other, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to force a degree of support for the National Development Plan (NDP), a policy that the left-wing generally sees as ‘neo-liberal’, anti-poor, anti-working class and conservative in fiscal and monetary terms.

There is a fine tension here between positives and negatives (for the audience NB writes for … mainly fund-managers – Ed). The NDP has been widely welcomed in financial markets. But the corruption associated with the holding of high office in South Africa is becoming something of a crisis for investors of all stripes. It is as inaccurate to think of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla faction as purely the champion of market friendly policy as it is to think that Irvin Jim, Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa are purely the anti-corruption champions of South African politics.

For now, we need to watch for the formation of the socialist party, probably at or before the year-end. Such a party will have a multiplicity of impacts including (but not limited to) undercutting areas of ANC support and forcing the ANC towards finding policies that stimulate economic growth.

(By-the-way I feel it is likely that this new party will have more substance and longevity than the EFF and through a variety of possible mechanisms – including some kind of alliance or even amalgamation – could subsume much of the EFF support and intellectual leadership. But that sort of speculative concoction will follow this post some time over the next few days.)

UDM says beware of vote rigging

The Sunday Independent (2 March) reports that Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement claimed that ‘rogue elements’ in the Independent Electoral Commission will help rig the 7 May election to ‘facilitate the underperforming ANC’:

“The ANC is very concerned (about shedding votes), hence they are pinning their hopes that those rogue elements will run the elections, so rigging will be on the high. There is no doubt about that” – Bantu Holomisa in the Sunday Independent, 2 March 2014.

So what?

The effectiveness, reliability and constitutionality of the Independent Electoral Commission have been important guarantors of aspects of South African democracy. While Holomisa’s allegations are not substantiated (in the aforementioned interview), the fact that such allegations are made can be an important leading indicator of long-term political stability. People and political parties must trust the electoral system if they are to accept the outcome of elections.

(Holomisa’s ‘rogue elements’ probably refers to Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the IEC, who was found last year by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to be guilty of improper conduct and maladministration with regard to the R320 million lease contract for a new head office for the IEC. Tlakula is currently challenging Madonsela’s finding in courts. The IEC and the Public Protector are both institutions established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution with specifies that they are designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic” – Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.)

Mining policy pushback – in the Business Day anyway

Today’s Business Day leads with a story claiming that there are ‘growing rumblings’ from the mining industry about the ‘once empowered, always empowered’ equity provisions in the Mining Charter. The issue in this case is that the government will this year audit the mining companies’ requirement to be at least 26% black owned. Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye Gold, is threatening to go to court to have Sibanye’s empowerment transactions counted in the audit, even if the black beneficiaries have since sold out of their equity.

Mining companies are issued licences pursuant to them meeting certain criteria with regard to Black Economic Empowerment, employment, social, community and labour obligations.

So what?

The series of stories in the Business Day about this matter smacks a little of a campaign by the newspaper – nothing wrong with that but then consume them tentatively. The story is worth reading just to catch the tone and tenor of Neal Froneman – who sounds fed-up to the point of rebellion. Catch it here.

The article quotes Mike Schroder, a portfolio manager of Old Mutual’s gold fund, at a mining conference last year: “One cost that I can’t chart is BEE (black economic empowerment). It doesn’t affect the bottom line or the EPS (earnings per share) or PE (price:earnings) ratios, but every time a BEE deal is done, our pension funds, our provident funds, our unit trusts have to chip in.”

I expect these legislative interventions by the government to strengthen not weaken over time. It is my initial impression that part of the ANC’s answer to the populist incursions onto its territory by the EFF will be to significantly strengthen ‘transformation obligations’ on the private sector – and in return the government will back the private sector against the labour unions. I think these trends will become visible before the end of the year and will be accompanied by greater emphasis on the NDP and by the axing of the ANC’s left-wing elements. Thus, the ANC will attempt to reconfigure South African politics, basing itself more tightly on the emerging property-owning and middle classes than previously, and in a loose alliance with the private sector.  This feeds into my ‘hoping for the best’ view of last week – although we should be cautious, because these complicated trade-offs will as likely end in tears as smiles.

Bits and Pieces

  • Last week, Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, became involved in an unseemly Twitter spat with City Press journalist Carien du Plessis. Actually, it was only Zille doing the spatting and (probably to Zille’s mortification) du Plessis wrote a calm and thoughtful defence of herself in the City Press on Sunday (2 March 2014). In the Twitter exchange, Zille essentially accuses du Plessis of apologising for being white (as far as I can make out). Zille is feisty and combative and there have been several ‘scandals’ around her phraseology and views. She definitely skirts the boundary of what is acceptable in the highly circumscribed and sensitive language of political debate in ‘post-apartheid South Africa’. Will this lose the DA any votes on 7 May? Will it gain the party any? I have no idea.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce’s Monday morning column, ‘The Cutting Edge The Thick Edge of the Wedge: The Political Basis for budgets (if he perchance comes to these lonely shores and find’s that error, I ask his forgiveness in advance) should be required reading for anyone interested in the speculative intersections between South African politics and economics. This morning, he claims that a normally reliable informant, someone “spectacularly close to the Presidency”, told him that Trevor Manuel will stay on in government as a super-minister in the Presidency in Zuma’s next administration, that other ‘left leaning ministers in the economics cluster’ (he probably means Ebrahim Patel in EDD and Rob Davies in DTI) will be shifted aside, that the ANC will hold its vote above 60% on 7 May, that the new administration will make “a big and forceful push after the elections to begin implementing the National Development Plan”, that the EFF and Numsa’s new party will not fly, and that Zuma will secure his safety from prosecution for fraud post his presidency by ensuring that his ex-wife and African Union President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is his successor. (The argument in Peter Bruce’s article being: “She would not put the father of her children in jeopardy – which I don’t necessarily buy, but is interesting anyway). This view concurs quite closely with my view articulated last week that it appears, shorn of its ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions, the ANC will be obliged (and set free) to pursue vigorous economic growth if it is to win the 2019 election.
  • Hitachi has bought back the ANC stake (held by investment company Chancellor House) in Hitachi Power Africa as the shareholding constituted ‘a conflict of interest’. You don’t say. Hitachi Power Africa won R38.5 billion of contracts from Eskom for the Medupi and Kusile power plants. Nuff said.
  • The weekend press had a few ‘final takes’ on the budget. The two I found most interesting were Peter Bruce, in his aforementioned column, writing that it was “a budget of almost unsurpassable banality”, and Numsa’s Irwin Jim saying at his Johannesburg press conference on Saturday that the budget “more than anything else confirms the right-wing shift in the ANC/SACP government”. I won’t say anything.
  • Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko wrote a paid-for ‘open letter’ in the Sunday Times yesterday accusing MTN SA and Vodacom of acting against the public interest (of expanding access to and lowering costs of a ‘modern communications infrastructure’) by opposing lower termination rates. Maseko claims that Telkom had subsidised Vodacom and MTM to the tune of R50bn over two decades. Professor Alison Gillwald of Research ICT Africa was quoted in today’s Business Day (by the excellent Carol Paton) as saying “Telkom is right. MTN and Vodacom had an extraordinary termination rate asymmetry with Telkom over 20 years.” She went on to say that, during the period of asymmetry, the private companies rolled out “enormous infrastructure that has improved access.” Finally, she says: “While one wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, she was a very fat goose”  … which I thought was a good enough turn of phrase to deserve republication anywhere.

* That is deliberately missing an apostrophe – the ‘*’ makes you think it might be there and you are forced back and forward between the noun and verb meaning. (Get a life! – Ed.)

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.

  • Important defection from the ANC to the EFF, and the DA launches robust campaign in Soweto – but it is probably not yet enough to scare the ANC
  • Appropriate concern grows at the Promotion of Investment and Protection Bill
  • Stunning victory in eastern DRC is becoming a feather in Zuma’s cap … 
  • … while the chaos in the SAPS and crime intelligence is a serious indictment of South Africa’s political leaders – and is threatening the investment environment

Herewith my latest news summary and analysis.

As I have mentioned previously, I write these updates very early on Monday mornings for the paying clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities. So thanks to those good people for allowing me to republish a few days later here (and thanks to them for giving me a fairly loose rein as to the style I am allowed to use).

Dali Mpofu announces defection from ANC to EFF
Dali Mpofu, advocate of the miners who were killed by the police in Marikana and a former CEO of the SABC, announced over the weekend that he was leaving the ANC and joining the Economic Freedom Fighters. While this is not completely unexpected (he represented Julius Malema in the ANC disciplinary hearings against the former ANCYL chairperson) Mpofu is perhaps the most mainstream figure to formally defect from the ANC and declare for the EFF.

So what?

This is my ‘shifting target’ predictions for the 2014 national election as of Friday November 1 (click on the graphic to see the details … and note the cute child sucking her thumb which is a graphic metaphor indicating I am making this up as I go along):

elecjpg

Some of you who saw those estimates in September might notice that I have massaged the EFF upwards and AgangSA downwards.

My Democratic Alliance results are probably too generous, although the pictures published in Afrikaans weekly Rapport on Sunday (11/03/2013) of the DA’s Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane’s launch of his campaign in the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto on Saturday indicate a surprisingly robust start.

Mmusi

My caution about the upside for the DA is based on the history of outcomes in the four national elections since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 (again click on the graphic for a version large enough to read … note DA at 16.66% in 2009 and ANC at 65.9% … hmm):

Elec history

One would have to suggest that the DA has set itself too difficult a task in declaring that it hopes to achieve 30% of the national vote and be in a position to form a provincial government in Gauteng in an alliance with other opposition parties after elections in 2014. The EFF and AgangSA are likely to eat into ANC support but the challengers have a mountain to climb and the incumbent has to fall a long way before the climbers even catch sight of their objective.

Concern grows at the Promotion of Investment and Protection Bill

Legislation designed to replace a number of bilateral investment treaties that South Africa has maintained with over a hundred trade and investment partners was published in the government gazette on Friday and is starting to raise concerns among investors. Already Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan has angrily blamed “lawyers serving the private sector” for increasing uncertainty in South Africa’s investment environment with regard to this legislation (in a deeply unhelpful statement he made on the side-lines of the African Economic Conference at Montecasino in Johannesburg last Monday – Business Day 28/03/2013).

So what?

At the height of the campaign for the nationalisation of mines during 2012 (by Julius Malema and the ANC Youth League) it was South Africa’s myriad bilateral investment protection treaties that were the strongest argument of reassurance for foreign investors. The problem is less the new legislation, and more that fact that existing treaties will not be renewed. Business Day in its front page lead story this morning says the decision not to renew the treaties has been criticised “by a range of groups, from foreign business to credit agencies for causing uncertainty over the security of future foreign investment”.  An informed legal opinion would be a requirement for the proper assessment of the risk here, but it is appropriate to approach this policy and legislative shift with caution.

Jacob Zuma attempts to fill the Great Lakes power vacuum

In the light of a stunning and quick Congolese army (FARDC) victory over the occupying M23 rebels last week, Jacob Zuma has moved quickly to reinforce South Africa’s apparent sovereign advances in the region. Today he will host a joint summit of southern African and Great Lakes leaders in Pretoria to seek ways of consolidating this week’s victory by the FARDC and its Southern African allies … and on Tuesday he will chair another summit designed to kick-start an African Union plan for volunteer governments to form “coalitions of the willing” to tackle continental conflicts – Sunday Independent 03/11/2013.

So what?

The contending interests in and around the Eastern Congo are extraordinarily complex, but from a South African perspective the apparent defeat of the M23 is a success for the SADC Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to which South Africa has contributed more than 1 300 troops alongside 1700 from Tanzania and Malawi. The M23 is backed by Rwanda which in turn is an ally of the US and the UK in the region. Crucially, those Western powers have warned Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to back off supporting the M23 – which is probably what left the rebels vulnerable last week (Sunday Independent and other several other sources).

There are significant mineral resources in the region and the Inga hydroelectric projects might become decisive to economic development in several southern African countries. Stability in the eastern DRC impacts on Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sudan and even Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Jacob Zuma has managed to shift significant obstacles out of the way of reformatting alliances in the region – an objective that eluded Thabo Mbeki. The situation is delicate and tentative but Jacob Zuma’s decisive follow-up indicates he is seizing the historical moment and the initiative in a manner that we would have thought unlikely a year ago.

The DRC is a Zuma plus but Crime Intelligence and the SAPS is deepening minus

The main domestic weekly newspapers (Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press) all attempted (unsuccessfully) to make sense of the damaging disarray and conflict in various aspects of the South African security services, most importantly in Crime Intelligence, the Hawks and the top echelons of the South African Police Services itself.

Last Monday the national police commissioner Riah Phiyega issued a suspension letter to the acting Crime Intelligence head, Chris Ngcobo (on the basis that there is some unspecified problem with Ngcobo’s qualifications).  Almost immediately afterwards a spy tape emerged and was leaked to the press that indicated Riah Phiyega was guilty of a crime by having “tipped off Western Cape police boss Arno Lamoer about a crime intelligence investigation linked to him” – Mail & Guardian.

So what?

You have to go to the source code for what is happening here because the details of each claim and counter-claim are impossible to follow. Essentially the police, and particularly Crime Intelligence, have been profoundly damaged by having been drawn into high-level political contests, particularly those between former president Thabo Mbeki and then challenger Jacob Zuma. Significant parts of these apparatuses have become semi-criminal and out-of-control, pursuing sometimes arcane political (and worse) agendas. The top echelons of our political establishment are directly implicated in and linked to this chaos – having deployed these institutions in their internecine battles. No individual institutional failing in South Africa is more serious and more threatening for those seeking stability and certainty in the regulatory and institutional environment.

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.

The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles - on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.

Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?

When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.

But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technolog(who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.

My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.

Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.

I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book.  Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).

However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.

(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)

So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.

Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.

This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.

Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.

Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.

I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.

Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.

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

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

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

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

SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks

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

Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Municipal IQ

Municipal IQ

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

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

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

Financial markets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

DancingANC

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)

That SACP quote is from here. For my explanation of how that all fits together with the nationalisation of mines call and host of other issues here (again) .

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

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

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

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

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

So take one step back and look carefully.

Ask: what is most essential about what happened here?

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

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

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

One more step:

… and one last step:

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

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

This is the essence of that realisation:

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

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

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

The most obvious metaphors are from physics.

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

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

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

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

The blood-dimmed tide

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

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

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

The communists had it right in 2009 already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

So what?

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 …

Oops …

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.”

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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