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… 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.

 

(Note: please read Jonny Steinberg’s comments on my miscasting of the implications of the recent HSRC’s South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012. Jonny argues that I have taken “a story of resounding success and twisted it into a tale of alarm”. Jonny Steinberg is correct on all counts and I hope to redress my error  at some time in the near future. Catch his brief criticism and my initial mea culpa in the comments section here.)

 Before it gets too out of date, herewith my last week’s (Monday 14 April) news update … it’s worth it just for Ronnie Kasrils’s comments about Zuma.

  • Employment equity in South Africa is glacially slow and will continue to help drive regulatory and political uncertainty
  • A spoilt ballot campaign and some unusually forthright statements from ANC leaders about corruption in their party and government
  • Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters on

Employment equity – dead slow ahead

Last week the Commission for Employment Equity released its 14th Annual report (available here) indicating glacial progress in making workplaces more representative of the demographic profile of the South African Economically Active Population (EAP).

Below is an indicator of race and gender breakdown of the working population as a whole:

Politics1

Original Source: Statistics South Africa, (QLFS 3 2013)

In the report’s ‘Top Management’ category, the trend between 2003 and 2013 is strikingly poor:

Employment equity reports 2003 - 2013

Employment equity reports 2003 – 2013

(The report uses categories: Top Management, Senior Management, Professionally Qualified and Skilled. The Department of Labour begun collecting data on ‘foreign natlonals’ as a distinct fraction of the EAP from only 2006.)

The performance is best in the government sector, but this only slightly improves the overall picture:

Employment equity reports 2013

Employment equity reports 2013

There have been some improvements at the lower end (Skilled Technical):

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

Employment equity report 2003 – 2013

However, not unsurprisingly, the Employment Equity Commission believes this is not good enough in itself, nor is it adequate compensation for failures elsewhere.

(The Commission is a statutory body that reports to the Department of Labour and operates within the aegis of Employment Equity Act, 1998 – amended by Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013.)

So what?

Poor performance by the private sector in reaching employment equity targets is a constant irritant to government and to the ‘designated groups’ (Africans, Coloureds, Indians, women and people with disabilities). Employers might argue that the administrative burden of the act is counter-productive and that the top employment categories require skills that are relatively scarce amongst the ‘designated groups’. However, the political consequence of the failure gradually adds to the risks in the operating environment.

Employment equity legislation in South Africa has, since 1998, tended not to concentrate on sanctions to enforce compliance. However it is apparent that government is gradually increasing the pressure. The Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013 increases fines for non-compliance – both with regard to reporting requirements and with regard to targets.

The African National Congress is increasingly challenged by radical populists (e.g., the EFF) and a militant left-wing (e.g., the incipient Numsa breakaway from Cosatu) which together argue that black South Africans have failed to adequately benefit from ‘liberation’. Part of the answer to this challenge from the ruling party is likely to be a rapid escalation of pressure around employment equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment.

There will be an increasing burden on all companies operating in the country and increased government hostility to defaulters. The ANC will not be tempted towards the nationalisation policy platforms of the emerging populist and leftist groups, but must find an answer that satisfies its constituency in the rapidly growing black middle class.

Spoiled ballot campaign

Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister, and long-time leader of the African National Congress, has embarked on a campaign with some other disaffected ANC members to call for a spoiled ballot in the May 7 election.

So what?

Nothing much, except that this is probably the tip of an iceberg of discontent in the African National Congress. Perhaps what is significant is that despite the emergence of the EFF and Numsa breakaways, and the apparent success of the DA campaign, many dissidents in the ANC still find themselves unable to follow a party other than the ANC.

Kasrils’s main problem with the ANC is what he perceives as a spread of serious corruption and abuse of public funds at a senior level in government and the party.

Obviously the strategic or tactical value of a spoiled ballot will be a matter of deep controversy.

(My own view is that Kasrils and his colleagues are well within their rights to propagate this option – it is, however, not an option I will be pursuing.)

Most interesting

What is most interesting is to read Kasrils’s comments about Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders in the interview with published in the City Press yesterday. I quote him here in-depth, because of how unusually explicit his mode of expression is and because I believe this view is representative of a significant group of ANC insiders, deeply unhappy with their party, but not yet ready to leave it:

People will tell you and it has been stated from people in exile and I can confirm – (that) he (Zuma) was a pretty simple guy. He wasn’t a person who was looking for fancy clothes and flash cars. He was pretty down to earth … I did see a certain ambition there by acquiring so many feminine relationships and wives and then children … (But Zuma has) changed very dramatically. Here is a man who comes back to South Africa and you can imagine how worried he must have been, how he was going to take care of this kind of menagerie … And then there are the people, capitalists, with money in their back pockets, who were looking at the new political power and pounced like vultures … There were some who were only too happy in the embrace because they did not have to worry about the wolf at the door, how they would have to pay the bills, how they were going to educate their kids, where they find a way to house their women … from then on, what happens to your fine principles of serving the people first and thinking of the key things that are necessary when you are now in league, and in bed, with people who become your sponsors? From that point of view, you change.

My view is that the people who now run the ANC, not every one of them, but there is an elite that has become incredibly corrupt that managed to take over – take power from Mbeki and kick him out and it’s just been downhill ever since with this system just rolling on like a snowball becoming larger and larger.

Ronnie Kasrils, City Press 13/04/2014

(Again, my personal views on whether Mbeki, Zuma or none-of-the-above are the root of all evil might differ somewhat from Kasrils’s but I think his plain speaking here is useful anyway.)

Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters briefly on

Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday last week was widely expected to be the close-to-final act in the trade union federation’s unravelling. However an ANC delegation led by Cyril Ramaphosa persuaded the Zuma loyalists as well the Zwelinzima Vavi-led faction to postpone a final showdown till after the elections. (Such a ‘final showdown’ is ostensibly about the suitability and prudence of the Vavi, but is actually about loyalty to Jacob Zuma to the ANC’s policy positions.)

So what

Again, it is interesting to note the interaction between fragmentation and momentum in the ruling alliance. The ideas and history (mythological or otherwise) that bind the members and supporters to the ANC make the split that is happening bizarrely protracted. However, there is no question that several splits in the ruling alliance are, in fact, in process. It is tactically important for Vavi and Numsa to hold on within Cosatu for as long as possible. Cosatu remains terrain which neither contestant feels ready to abandon to the other.

 

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.

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

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

Nairobi terror attack part of a developing African front

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

So what?

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

 

Cosatu ructions have potentially serious implications for investors

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

So what?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

 

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

Strikes – turbulence as the cycle hits the secular trend

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

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

So what?

We have mentioned previously:

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

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

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

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

The essence of the gamesmanship between Num and Amcu is Num must demand and win an increase via strike action that is satisfactory to its membership, and Amcu must try and undermine the strike action and argue that, anyway, the ‘demand’ in the Num led strike is inadequate. On mines where Amcu dominates (in the Carletonville region at AngloGold, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold, according to Adrian Hammond BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities gold analyst – see his note “Wage Negotiations – The Final Round? August 28 2013) Amcu must attempt to force mines out of the central bargaining process by ensuring that no central agreement can achieve a sustainable settlement at the local mine or company level.

Lock-out

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

 

Alliance Summit

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

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that

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

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

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

“bold forms of state intervention, including through:

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

So what?

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

 

Criminal justice system appropriately named

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

So what

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

 

 

Editor flees from Gupta TV

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

So what

Nothing, really. ANN7, or GuptaTV as it has been named in much of the South African media, continues to provide comic relief and excruciating embarrassment, in about equal measures. Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is probably no laughing matter, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the criminal justice system to test whether Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta brothers is in anyway similar to his relationship with the Shaik brothers.

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

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

National Development Plan – under attack from left and right

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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


The collusion scandal in the construction sector

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

So what?

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

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

 

Tax Commission – some welcome caution

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

So what?

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

 

Mining industry legislative changes show ANC ambivalence about the resources sector

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

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

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

So what?

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

 

“Fierce ANC Ramaphosa succession battle brews” – Sunday Independent

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

So what?

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

 

Zimbabwe election chaos looms

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

SO what?

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

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

 

Bits and pieces

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

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

In high anxiety at my failure to publish here for several weeks (what with 12 days visiting fund managers in the UK and Europe and new commitments to the Daily Maverick – see here and here for the first two of those) I have decided to again post a modified version of my usually bespoke  ‘SA Political news commentary’ … to show willing; to demonstrate that I am not entirely unembarrassed that my last post, which was also a news commentary, was on March 18.

Perhaps I am edging towards closing down this blog … but I am not quite done yet, and for those who have stuck with me this long, I thank you.

So here,  written to a deadline of 06h30 yesterday, slightly modified for my hanging-by-a-thread website:

SA Political News update 23/04/2013

Cosatu and the ruling alliance: corruption claims and counterclaims

According to the Mail & Guardian (April 19-25), the battle for control of Cosatu is becoming ever more vicious. The article states that behind the noise is an apparent attempt by the ANC to close down a powerful left faction in Cosatu that has been critical of both corruption and the alleged adoption of ‘pro-business’ policies by the ANC and government. The main issues over which the battle is playing out are:

  • Allegations made (according to the M&G) by “an informal caucus … of senior leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, Popcru, Sadtu, Cepawu [they mean CEPPWAWU, I think - ed], the SACP and the ANC[1]” that Zwelinzima Vavi, the popular Cosatu Secretary General, has engaged in corrupt activity and is disloyal to the ANC-led alliance, including by failing to adequately support Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung.
  • A flood of accusations made through the Cosatu linked NGO Corruption Watch that many of the leaders of unions involved in attacking Vavi are themselves corrupt – Mail & Guardian in a story that works more by insinuation rather than actual content – see here  for the story that was later denied by Corruption watch here).
  • The proposal made by Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) for a special Cosatu congress to resolve this issue, opposed by the group named in the first bullet, but supported by Numsa, Samwu and several smaller unions[2].
  • Support for and against the National Development Plan.

So what?

Business might be tempted to fold its arms and sit back and delight that the old ‘thorn in the side’ Cosatu is being riven by tension. However, it is worth recalling that some industrial relations consultants also delighted in the emergence of Amcu in the platinum sector as a counter to Num for similar reasons – and look how that played out. The serious political conflict in Cosatu could as easily result in higher levels of labour unrest, with higher levels of unpredictability, in a wide variety of industries than in a generally more compliant labour movement. Several multi-year wage agreements are coming up for review before the end of this year (including in the automobile, chemical, gold mining, coal mining, retail motor industry and tyre sectors – which historically have been trendsetters – Business Times). Add to this my uncertainty as to whether the tight three-year public sector wage agreement set last year will hold under strain caused by a combination of:

  • the (welcome) reforming zeal of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu,
  • government’s apparent attempt to roll back the power of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, and
  • the generally difficult economic circumstances for union members,
  • the successes of the wildcat strikes, particularly in the platinum sector last year, perhaps having established a new baseline for increase expectation throughout the economy

and it is not inconceivable that we could have another year of potentially devastating labour unrest.

If the government’s (and the ANC’s) intention was to have a showdown with organised labour over economic growth and stability that would be one thing. But I suspect that the evident intervention in Cosatu is based on the sectarian interests at the ruling faction of the alliance rather than in any real desire to pursue the national good. If that faction faction successfully expels Vavi they might precipitate a split in Cosatu and the long awaited formation of a new ‘left’ political formation … and just by the act of pushing, through what appears to be a dirty tricks campaign, for this outcome the ruling faction risks rapidly escalating labour unrest.

The DA and the ANC try on their best dresses (or maybe not)  for Election 2014

The DA has launched a campaign attempting to burnish its anti-apartheid credentials, including publishing a pamphlet with a picture of Nelson Mandela embracing deceased party stalwart Helen Suzman under the caption: “We played our part in opposing apartheid”.

At the same time, the Mail & Guardian has published excerpts of what it calls ‘draft DA election material’ which explicitly compares the ANC to the National Party. The M&G’s quotes from the draft document include the arguments that under Zuma’s ANC there is a “rise of Zulu nationalism and racist rhetoric” and “as was the case with apartheid, the ANC is using the police to suppress criticism of its government”.

In the City Press and Sunday Independent, the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has separate opinion pieces that argue that the DA’s attempt to appropriate Nelson Mandela is “an abuse of the human and humble character of this icon”. He adds that the DA “remains a brazen advocate for white domination and privilege, and for elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.

So what?

The general election next year is likely to be messy and disruptive – sustaining the apparently endless flow of unsettling news coming out of South Africa. From this far out it appears possible that the ANC will be arguing that the electoral issues are essentially identical to what they were in 1994 (white domination and the legacy of apartheid) and that the DA will be arguing that that is just an excuse for delivery failure – it would be difficult to conjure up a more divisive and unhelpful framing of the issues 20 years after the first democratic election.

The unravelling of the Mandela legacy

The weeklies have a flood of stories that pick away at the fabric of the Mandela story. A reality TV show “Being Mandela” is reviewed in the Sunday Times under the heading “Opening up the canned Mandelas – comic kugels[3] help deflate the myth”. The show “unveils the vacuous, pampered lives of two of Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini” – Sunday Times.

The Sunday Independent leads with a review of “struggle stalwart” Amina Cachalia’s new book “When Hope and History Rhyme” in which, among many other matters, she reveals aspects of her own alleged romantic relationship with Nelson Mandela post his marriage to Graça Machel.

All of this comes as a bitter fight among Mandela’s children (with, among others, Nelson Mandela nominees George Bizos and Tokyo Sexwale) for control of various trusts that Nelson Mandela set up on his children’s behalf comes to a head in the Johannesburg High Court – The Sunday Tribune.

So what?

There may be some inherent advantages to the exposing of myths and legends as … myths and legends – but there really appears to be no upside to this depressing deflation. None of these stories changes the reality of the 94 year old South African former president’s contribution to the South African democracy and state-craft in general, but the incessant exposure does add to the gathering gloom around the South African story.

Bits and pieces

  • The Youth Employment Accord has finally been signed after three years of squabbling in the National Economic Development and Labour council (Nedlac). Not unexpectedly, it does not include a youth wage subsidy in the form of a tax-break for companies employing first time youth workers. Frankly, at first glance, the accord, as reported in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and City Press appears vague enough to leave some confusion as to how it might result in its proposed creation of 5 million jobs for youth by 2020. No real surprises there.
  • The weeklies were full of scholarly – and not so scholarly – debate about the resignation of Judicial Services Council member Izak Smuts. The debate boils down to whether there is a tension between the quality of judicial appointments and the need to make the judiciary more demographically representative. This is an intrinsically South African debate that cuts across every sector of society and will likely be with us for many years to come – for better or for worse.
  • ANC MP, Ben Turok, explains in the Sunday Times the terms of reference and limitation of the nine member “inquisitorial” panel appointed by parliament to investigate the “ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, potential or otherwise” of Communications Minister Dina Pule with regard to the various allegations that she has allowed her romantic partner to make significant capital out of her ministerial post. That parliament is investigating this matter can only be a good – albeit long overdue – thing.

[1] In order in which it appears in the quote, and supposedly constituting an anti-Vavi, pro-NDP, pro Zuma  faction: the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress

[2] And this group, supposedly constituting the pro-Vavi, anti-NDP faction, anti Zuma faction: National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers Union (plus a host of smaller unions including the Food and Allied Workers union).

(Note for both footnotes 1 and 2 – it is undoubtedly more complicated than this, but we need to start somewhere to attempt to make sense of the chaos.)

[3] Wikipedia (accessed 22/04/2013) explains the use of this term in South African slang as follows: “Amongst South African Jews, the word “kugel” was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favour of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman.”

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.

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

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

Construction industry – possible prosecution and fines for fraud and racketeering

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

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

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

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

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

Gupta TV

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

So What?

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

Telecommunications – new political upheavals on the cards

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

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

Mining Indaba – policy confusion as rife as ever

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

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

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

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

Bits and pieces

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

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

… hmmm, must have a pretty big kitchen.

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.

It’s tempting to focus on the ANC as if its history and prospects are a proxy for the history and prospects of the country as a whole.

The party’s centenary celebrations this week will strengthen the sense that this is indeed the case.

The last hundred years of South African history has been about the formal subjugation of the black inhabitants of the country by European colonial powers and settler groups; the fight for national liberation and self-determination; the victory and then seventeen years of the complex process of democratic rule.

Running like a spine through that body of history is the African National Congress –  which not without some legitimacy claims to be the organised expression of black people’s struggle to be free of colonial and then apartheid oppression and exclusion.

Then in the same way that the back bone’s connected to the … neck bone it follows naturally that post-1994, given the ANC’s overwhelming dominance at the polls, the party can legitimately be seen as the ongoing expression of black South African’s attempts to govern themselves and use the state to redress the inequalities and distortions caused by that apartheid and colonial past.

So this week the ANC celebrates its 100th anniversary, kicking off with a centenary golf day (for only the luckiest of revellers) and including gala dinners, interdenominational church services and culminating in a public rally in Bloemfontein (Mangaung) on Sunday January 8.

The sense that the ANC is a proxy for the country itself is strengthened by the fact that this year will culminate in and ANC national conference electing a leadership that will, almost automatically, become the leadership of government after the general elections in 2014 – again, given the ANC’s electoral dominance.

Additionally an ANC policy conference in July will pronounce upon a range of  matters concerning the role of the state in the economy and it promises to make policy on (amongst other matters) the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of white owned farm land – with or without compensation.

But hang on a moment …

One of the key tasks of political parties in their struggle to become or remain the party of government is to present their agenda as identical to the national agenda, their leadership as automatically the national leadership and their interests identical to the national interest.

The ANC can legitimately point to how central it is to South Africa’s political and cultural life, but as we wilter this week under the the searing overstatement of that message it is useful to bring a few proviso’s to the front of mind.

We are a country with a small, open economy nestled in the most depressed region of a world overwhelmingly interconnected and subject to monumental forces that grind their way irresistibly through the Ozymandian vanities of governments significantly more powerful than ours.

The more we learn about the world and the history of human societies the more apparent it is that we have been hopelessly overoptimistic about our ability to understand let alone predict how the complex systems of our economies, national entities, ecological systems and cities function, evolve, collapse and change.

I am sure that this week newspapers will be full of huffy assertions that the ANC does not represent “the nation” and therefore treating its centenary as if it was a sacred ritual akin to Fourth of July in the United States (which celebrates independence from Great Britain in 1776) is a travesty.

Quite right too. The ANC has diverted significant national resources to traditional US style pork belly politics  but has also made itself guilty of more overt Angolan style looting. All that combines to makes its claim to represent the “national interest” an insulting insinuation about “the nation”.

Also new political forces are emerging and growing – most obviously Cosatu and the Democratic Alliance – that will further erode such ANC claims in future – as will the shifting ethnic bases of parties and groups that contest in the political arena of South Africa.

However, these were not the points I wanted to make – and I am sure they are going to be done to death in the next few days.

My point is that sovereignty itself – and certainly who the ANC elects as leaders and what the party decides vis-a-vis nationalisation of mines and expropriation of land without compensation – will have much less force and effect in determining South Africa’s political and economic future that we might imagine.

Economic policy, laws governing ownership and general “good behaviour” around fiscal and monetary policy are rigidly constrained both by the discipline of global capital markets and by a myriad bilateral and multilateral agreements between countries and blocks of countries.

As I said to clients earlier this week (concerning the ANC centenary):

“Obviously we must continue to watch the ANC as carefully as always in 2012 – but this small open country and economy will continue to be tossed on the currents of the global economy and the various geopolitical, technological, cultural and environmental forces that shape the world. We might miss a trick or two if we lull ourselves into believing the myth that the ANC is a kind of metaphor for the country as a whole.

The Arch live on national television on Sunday night was full of his old and delightful twinkly theatricality.

“Watch out ANC government, watch out!”

My own view is he has every right to his anger and he expressed it with aplomb (and I am deliberately leaving aside placing the Dalai Lama anywhere on the continuum between “paragon of virtue” and “another narcissistic human-rights rock star” – because I think he is irrelevant to the question of the ANC’s moral failure in this case.)

Now Tutu didn’t actually say the ANC was either worse than, or equivalent to, the Nats, but I still wish he would keep in mind the problem of the inflation of metaphor.

He said that the ANC government’s failures of visa issuance are worse than those of the Nats – because at least with Apartheid’s masters you expected the worst.

Which is obviously still rubbish – even in this more limited form – to anyone who remembers how much focus was given the domestic and international movement of black people by the machinery of the Apartheid state.

But moral watchdogs are obliged to bark as loud at the gradual rise of tyranny as they do when that bloody moon reaches its apogee – which is why I am not going to quibble with the Arch; he is doing his job and all strength to him.

What I originally wanted to do was draw a graph using the 4 previous post-1994 South African visa applications (that I know of) for the Dalai Lama and plot them against the rise of China in Africa and the fall of principle within the ANC – but I think that has too many axes (including the grinding kind) and I couldn’t get it to work in Excel.

In 1996 Nelson Mandela invited the Dalai Lama and met him face to face; in 1999 Thabo Mbeki’s government gave him a visa as part of an international interfaith conference but refused to meet him; in 2009 Mbeki’s government refused him a visa altogether and today Zuma’s government has ignored the issue entirely.

You can plot those points yourself against this graphic that I have cobbled together:

The explanation for the changing stance of visa applications becomes fairly obvious when you track them along that curve.

And then, if you have the time or the inclination, feel free to suggest a speech bubble for the protagonists.

*If you are not South African that headline is going to be difficult to explain. “My china” is slang for “my good friend”. So “China’s my ANC” is a species of bad pun crossed with an unintelligible inside joke. (Note: It has been pointed out to me in the comments section below that “my china” meaning “my friend” comes from rhyming Cockney slang … China plate/mate … should get my brass tacks right.)

Following a previous post: The Limits of Politics I want to argue that what the ANC is becoming is less a function of the failings of its leadership and more a consequence of the titanic forces of social change.

The past and present history of the African National Congress could be characterised (in shorthand) like this:

National Liberation Movement

The ANC arose out of the fact of the prolatarianisation of an African peasantry and the deepening national oppression of all black South Africans – only codified in Grand Apartheid in 1948 but stretching back much further.

What the ANC was was a natural expression of the changing pattern of the oppression of Africans (and other black South Africans)  between 1912 and 1994. One way of understanding the shape, raison d’être, policies and leadership of the ANC during this period is to trace the history of the strategy and tactics of the pre-Apartheid and Apartheid states.

Each phase of ANC resistance to colonisation and apartheid – from the initial polite depositions of the early years, to the militancy in the 50’s, the banning in 1960, the crushing of the organisation’s internal structures, the launch of the ‘armed struggle’, the imprisonment and exile of its leadership, the playing catch-up after the 1976 explosion, the United Democratic Front as an internal wing to prevent Coloured and Indians being won over to a National Party strategy leading up to mass protests, negotiation – was mirrored in the changing structure of the society.

This is not to say the ANC was a perfect expression of all aspects of African resistance or that, in turn, such resistance was a perfect response to national oppression. The shape that all things assume is always a complicated expression of subjective and objective factors and this is true too for the African National Congress.

The forces that ended Apartheid

Of course the struggle for freedom of South African people and their organisations (and their allies around the world) is one way of understanding what brought about the end of Apartheid.

But another is to ask: what was Apartheid trying to control, for what end – and why did it fail?

Apartheid was ultimately a system of law, repression and inducements designed to deflect African’s economic and political aspirations away from white owned and controlled South Africa – for the purpose of securing white economic power and security.

It ultimately failed because Africans “voted with their feet”. The National Party was trying to legislate (and police) against the collective desires and actions of millions of people. But Africans would not have their aspirations diverted to the geographical or the political Bantustans. In the face of fines and brute force Africans kept coming back to the cities, the bright lights, the markets, the chance of work and the chance to do business.

To avoid complicating this further, let me say my own shorthand understanding of what was happening (and the timing of what was happening) is the South African and global economy were growing in ways that required an educated and settled workforce and this in turn raised for African South Africans the realistic possibility of being ‘settled’, ‘educated’ and, ultimately, of achieving a better life.

Apartheid and National Party rule constituted a barrier to the swelling aspiration of African South Africans – particularly for property, assets, homes and the right to work and live where they pleased.

The ending of Apartheid and National Party rule was the bursting of the dam.

1994 and beyond – the time of the flood

The African National Congress had always been forced to root itself in a marginalised African population and this meant it faced most forms of power in the society as the challenger and the outsider.

The ANC was able to ride the wave of rising African aspirations in the 70’s and 80’s – but there was no expectation that it meet those aspirations.

Everything changed of 1994.

The government’s of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki had a mandate and responsibility to use the winning of the ‘political kingdom’ to seek the economic one. What followed was a two-pronged approached to empowering the ‘previously disadvantaged”:

  • take the state bureaucracy out of white hands and put it into black ones;
  • encourage transformation of ownership and control of the private sector through employment equity laws and regulations and through the development of a black economic empowerment  regime.

The process very quickly assumed its own momentum and the first stratum of individuals who were sucked into the maelstrom was the political class … the senior members of the ANC and government.

Once you have begun to use the state as a lever to gain economic power it is difficult to stop.

But by the time Thabo Mbeki’s government attempted to formalise, control and broaden the process with the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 it was out of control – and engulfing large sections of the ruling party and the senior levels of the state bureaucracy.

… and the point?

The point is not to exonerate the ANC or government or individual leaders who have become tenderpreneurs or crony capitalists. It is not even to excuse government (particularly Thabo Mbeki’s) for making specific errors in structuring the process  … there were others paths that could have been taken that might have made a difference.

But the reason I suggest this vantage point or approach is because I think the hope that this process could ever have been calm or orderly is based on misunderstanding the deep, structural and historical nature of what is happening.

A flood of wealth and power is moving from the old order to the new and has blurred the boundaries between the public and private sector and is threatening to overwhelm government and the ruling party. Once the waters have achieved a new equilibrium it may be possible to re-establish a separation and rebuild the laws.

But it is going to be close.

Some of the things we think we know about revolts and revolutions – but that do not always apply:

  • Where there are adequate elective processes dissatisfied people believe they can influence outcomes through voting and therefore are unlikely to make the sacrifices required of a revolution.
  • Revolts are generally lead and organised by the middle classes – a degree of education is required – thus where the middle class is linked to the ruling elite through patronage or ethnicity, its members are less likely to lead a revolution.
  • Societies where a middle class is non-existent (where the division in the society is a simple one between the rulers and the people) can be surprisingly stable and enduring.
  • Poverty and unemployment tend, on their own, not to be strong predictors of unrest and revolt – it is often a necessary condition that these two social ills exists alongside visible inequality.
  • Ethnic exclusion from government or the economy is a powerful driver of unrest and revolt – colonialists loved to place favoured ethnic minorities to rule over less favoured ethnic majorities – a recipe for revolt and, depending on the relative size of the groups, civil war.
  • Revolts tend not to happen in situations or countries where the condition is continuously and steadfastly awful. Revolts happen when expectations begin to rise amongst “the people” – in response to improving social, economic, political or cultural conditions.  US sociologist James C Davies turned the simple observation that expectations rise faster than improvements in the underlying conditions and further that the system can cope with the disconnect only until conditions continue to improve (the Davies J-curve). I discuss the usefulness of this formulation in relation to South Africa’s ongoing service delivery protests here, a blog post that could have been written … almost word for word … today, but was, in fact, written in March last year.

With those meagre points acting as a theoretical background here then are my thoughts on the forces working for and against revolt in the South African context. It is not as simple a matter as putting some things in one column and others in another. Many of the protective factors are also depth charges seeding our future with hazards, but I will do my best to make it as simple as possible.

Why we are less revolting than we might be

  1. The first and most obvious reason is unlike many of the Middle East North Africa countries (from now on written as MENA, following a financial market convention) South Africa is a fully functional democracy where citizens have several opportunities to vote for and against parties that run their lives at a local, provincial and national level.
  2. The Ruling ANC is still seen by much of the electorate as the party led and staffed and supported by those who fought apartheid and those whose lives have improved because of that system’s demise. Whatever it might be in the future, right now the ANC still has enormous reserves of goodwill based on the fact that it is the premier liberation movement (still) led by the heroes of the struggle.
  3. The ANC government pays just under 40 percent of consolidated non-interest expenditure (that’s  R314 billion up from R156 billion five years ago) on the public sector wage bill and a further 20 percent to the poorest South Africans in the form of social grants. These are crucial constituencies to get to buy into stability – and a large part of the nation’s wealth is doing just that:  providing jobs for the emerging middle classes and  poverty alleviation for those who would otherwise be without hope.
  4. Add into the stability mix the fact that the ANC has managed to dispense a huge degree of patronage to the most aspirant and powerful of its leaders, members and constituents through the legal and regulatory regime of Black Economic Empowerment and the application of employment equity laws especially in the parastatals.
  5. Finally, whatever the criticisms, this government has built more houses for the poor, paved township roads, established sewerage and water connections, and provided the poorest South Africans with private and public goods on a scale unimagined under the previous dispensation of the Apartheid rulers.

Why we might be more revolting than we think

  1. Firstly, the obvious threat to stability is fiscal. Can we afford to meet the ever growing needs of the poorest as well as the growing middle class? At some impossible to predict moment in the future a force (a Maggie Thatcher type force) will arise within government and attempt to get our financial house in order. The first cuts will be in the fattest areas: social grants and public sector wage bill. I have no doubt an even slightly popular government could weather the resulting storm, but it will be a weather phenomenon that will be spoken of for many years.
  2. Secondly, failure to meet the fiscal challenge has its own terrifying dangers. In fact, this is precisely what happened in Zimbabwe. The leaders of Zanu-PF ransacked the war veterans pension fund which caused ex-combatants to begin militantly to threaten Mugabe and Zanu-PF.  The pension fund was recapitalised to the tune of $2bn in the late 90’s and the rest, as some are wont to say, is history. Spending $2bn they didn’t have led directly to hyperinflation, food riots and the formation of the MDC. With no largesse left to dispense the white owned farms were next on Zanu-PF’s attempts to stave off revolt and the last titbits of that economy are currently being pissed up against the wall with the same objective but in the name of “indiginisation”. Of course, Zimbabwe hasn’t revolted, but the price the politicians have made that country pay for stability has left Zimbabweans worse off than even the most cataclysmic revolution might have done.
  3. If  a greedy, rent seeking, corrupt, politically powerful and unaccountable elite is what fuelled revolt in MENA, then we are in all kinds of trouble. “Elite Theory” is a branch of sociology that argues that the economic and political elite make up an informal network that is the actual source and exercise of power – not “the people” through elections and parliament.  At an obvious level the theory applies to us: a publicly unaccountable elite within the ANC deploys loyalists to key institutions throughout the state and economy so as better to control the shape and direction of society. But with such a dominant and popular ruling party, such practices are unlikely to lead directly to revolt. However, beyond the formal exercise of the policy of “cadre deployment” we have an elite almost identical to those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and a host other MENA countries. These are the grand political families that thrive on tenders won from the state and bribes won from global corporates attempting to secure lucrative deals here. These are the groups and individuals that have turned some of our provinces, town and cities into gangster fiefdoms ruled by fear, patronage and manipulation.

On Balance?

We are still well within the safety zone and the system seems to have the flexibility and resources to withstand firm assaults in the future.

The obvious danger is the parasitic elite that honeycombs the upper echelons of our politics and economy. Many who participated in the Polokwane Putsch understood themselves to be cleansing the ANC and government of such an elite.

Unfortunately they failed to notice that their principal allies were the second -rankers and blatant criminals that Mbeki had managed to keep away from the trough.

If this elite manages (as it constantly strives to do) to divert the resources our society has available for economic growth, employment, poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, public health and education (you name the social good, it is threatened by the elite’s rent seeking activities) then we will have to reassess.

While people like  Willie Hofmeyr are still loyal ANC members and in place as senior state officials there is hope. Yes it is horrifying that he estimates that his Special Investigative Unit will scrutinise R20bn of tender fraud in this financial year (read about that here) but the real trouble arrives when people like him throw up their hands in disgust and head for the private sector.

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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