As promised some comments on the politics of Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget … but first forgive me for expressing some of my irritation at two of his (Gordhan’s)  recent statements.

That will be followed by some of  the bits and pieces I found interesting in the weekly newspapers – if you didn’t see the ‘Zuma gaffes” selection in the Sunday Times and City Press I reproduce some of them here.

Excuse me?

Look I am not yet ready to start calling him a tubby little tyrant with the charisma of a mud prawn but Pravin Gordhan has been saying some things that are not hugely endearing.

First he told a joint parliamentary committee that negative news flow from ‘the media” was partly responsible for sovereign downgrades of South Africa’s debt. So what, he thinks Moody’s, S&P and Fitch get their understanding of government policy from the Sunday Times?  It is just a stupid thing to say and makes him sound just like a National Party ministers circa about 1986. Catch that here.

Secondly, responding to the flurry around South Africa’s cancellation of its bilateral investment treaty with Germany he “blamed lawyers serving the private sector for increasing uncertainty in South Africa’s investment environment” – catch that Business Day story here .

I didn’t personally hear Gordhan in either of these instances but there might be a pattern emerging:

Pravin (PW Botha) Gordhan

Look familiar … think PW Botha? (That’s Business Day’s photo btw, I hope and trust they don’t mind)

Okay, I am glad I got that off my chest – on with the rest.

Political messaging and the medium-term budget – all good

If political messaging was all that we were looking at in the MTBPS then we would have to conclude that Pravin Gordhan’s performance was overwhelmingly financial market positive. Obviously ‘messaging’ doesn’t determined the price of eggs or the price of much else. The believability of Minister Gordhan’s various estimates and projections is ultimately more important for determining sovereign risk, but the overt politics of the message indicates a more confident government prepared to stand on organised labour’s toes to reassure global capital markets (and other investors).

Firstly, Gordhan was on message with regard to the Employment Tax Incentive Bill. This is the latest manifestation of the youth wage subsidy and has been bitterly opposed by Cosatu and, to some degree, by members of the SACP (for reasons that I have explained elsewhere). It is unclear whether the policy will make a significant dent in South Africa’s serious youth unemployment problem (which deputy minister of Finance Nhlanlha Nene recently put at  42% for  those aged between 19 and 29) but what the rating agencies have been looking for is signs that the ANC and government can forge policy independent of, especially, Cosatu – and in this confident assertion by Gordhan they have their signal.

Secondly, the Finance minister cast the MTBPS – and, in fact, all future budget statements – as the accounts of the National Development Plan (NDP). Again, the NDP is bitterly opposed by Cosatu – and is less than warmly regarded by the SACP. It is a confident Jacob Zuma that backs his Minister of Finance to define government budgeting as : “(t)aking the National Development Plan as the point of departure”.

The NDP is little more than a shopping list and a general statement of intent but it generally conceives of the market as the appropriate mechanism for the allocation of capital (at least more so than the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action plans do). It also puts the infrastructure plans and improving capacity and accountability of the public service as key planning objectives. There is no evidence that the ANC and the Zuma administration is going to succeed in moving beyond planning to implementation, but Gordhan made the right noises in his speech.

Thirdly Gordhan pressed every conceivable button in his attempts to tone down excesses in the executive and the public services. He placed a number of ceilings on luxuries, cars, travel, catering, accommodation, use of credit cards – and amongst the Twitterati the cry went out: Gordhan derails the gravy train!

Again this is good form but we have to keep an eye out for the content. After all this is a government led by a president deeply implicated in the ambitious abuse of various privileges. It is going to take a more than fine sounding words to convince the country that the gravy train has, in fact, been delayed let alone derailed.

Fourthly the key political aspect of political risk in relation to the budget is the commitment to restrain growth of the public sector wage bill and social grants – two pillars of both political stability and continued electoral support for the ANC. Obviously the minister (at this stage the apparently tough and skilful Lindiwe Sisulu) in public service and administration will have to hold the line in public sector wage negotiations – we will have to wait to see how that plays out, but Sisulu is the right person for the job of holding that thin red line.

Loud and widespread muttering about power struggles in the Democratic Alliance

It should probably be seen as a sign that the Democratic Alliance is on the verge of breaking out of its previously narrow ethnic base that the fine details of its internal power struggles are becoming a matter of national public debate. All the major weeklies discussed a putative succession struggle between the DA’s national spokesman and candidate for Gauteng premier, Mmusi Maimane and the DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko. The point being that Maimane’s supporters are pushing for him to be on the parliamentary list so that if the DA does not win Gauteng next year (dah!) he will still get into parliament.

So what?

Obviously the Democratic Alliance believes that it needs a black leader if it is to make a serious dent on ANC support in 2019 – but the matter is not so pressingly urgent that they are likely to dump their extremely successful and popular leader Helen Zille any time soon. I still think there is space for an amalgamation of the DA and AgangSA after that new party performs adequately but fails to shoot out the lights in 2014. That will leave the tantalising possibility of Mamphela Ramphele finding her way into the top leadership of the DA some time in about 2016. So of the three potential black leaders of the DA, Maimane probably has most township credibility and would represent the DA going out there head-to-head with the ANC for the African vote. Lindiwe Mazibuko would be the most palatable for the DA’s traditional support base (yes, we all know who I mean). And Ramphele, with her struggle credibility and achievement in academia and business seems like a perfect – and heavy hitting – compromise. She might need a charisma injection, but that is purely a personal observation.

Mozambique – Renamo rears its scarred and ugly old head

The Mozambique army overran a key Renamo base in central Sofala province on Monday last week and Renamo guerrillas hit back on Saturday by ambushing a minibus, killing one person and injuring 10 more.

So what?

This might seem like small cheese, but Monday’s government attack has forced Renamo opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama to flee into the bush and has raised the spectre of the restart of the 16-year civil war which ended in a 1992 peace pact that established multi-party democracy in Mozambique. Renamo has lost every election since 1992 but Dhlakama’s party said on Monday it was abandoning the peace agreement. In and of itself what has happened over the last week is not huge, but in the context of the hopes for Mozambique’s economic growth as that country emerges as a natural gas giant, Renamo becomes a significant risk that needs careful attention.

The Cosatu vortex is sucking in everyone in – this is a clear and present danger

This weekend the national general council of the powerful South African Democratic Teachers Union lined up in precise opposition to Numsa in the on-going and bitter struggle taking place in Cosatu. Sadtu backed the disciplinary process against Zwelinzima Vavi, it vigorously opposed the holding of a special Cosatu conference and it unequivocally backed the ANC in elections next year.

So what?

My own (perhaps counter-intuitive) view is that the only way for Cosatu to remain as a functional federation and part of the ruling alliance is for a special congress to be held during which Zwelinzima Vavi wins the popular vote, escapes disciplinary action for his various infractions (both the real ones and the made up ones) and Numsa decides to stay in the federation. However, it is looking increasingly like the ANC loyalists are going to force Numsa, Vavi and their various allies out of the federation. Note that Sadtu itself is facing something of a minor palace revolt after receiving threats from some of its own members who are angry at the suspension of the union’s president Thobile Ntola for supporting Zwelinzima Vavi. Yes the key Zuma and ANC allies in Cosatu can force the leftist critics out of the federation but that will lead to a split – and, in my opinion, cascading instability throughout the labour sector as Numsa and others compete in every workplace against the incumbent Cosatu union. This outcome is closer than ever and it appears to me can only be averted if a special Cosatu congress is allowed to take place and that a likely democratic victory by Numsa and Vavi is allowed to carry at any such conference. It would stick in some ANC craws, but it would re-establish the status quo of a restive Cosatu that remains a faithful, if critical, ANC ally.

Jacob Zuma provides some light relief

Politicians often say things that outrage some and delight others by providing grist to the social satirist’s mill.

Jacob Zuma provided a gem last week when he said:

“We can’t think like Africans in Africa, generally; we’re in Johannesburg (the N1 is) not some national road in Malawi”.

(Gauteng ANC manifesto forum – October 21 2013)

This provided the opportunity for several journalists (most notably Gareth Von Onsellen in the Sunday Time and Carien Du Plessis in the City Press) to aggregate some of Jacob Zuma’s more illuminating gaffs from the last several years. Here, purely to save you from having to dig into the papers yourself, are some of those:

“I’ve always said that a wise business person will support the ANC … because supporting the ANC means you’re investing very well in your business”

(ANC 101st anniversary gala dinner in Durban – January 12 2013)

“Sorry, we have more rights here because we are a majority. You have fewer rights because you are a minority. Absolutely, that’s how democracy works”

(President’s question time in the National Assembly – September 13 2012)

“Kids are important to a woman because they give extra training to a woman, to be a mother.”

(SABC interview with Dali Tambo August 19 2012)

“Even some Africans, who become too clever, take a position, they become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions and everything”

(Speech to the National House of Traditional Leaders November 1 2012)

“When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed.”

 (Address to ANC supporter in Easter Cape – February 4 2011)

“The ANC will rule South Africa until Jesus comes back.”

 (Gauteng ANC special council – March 15 2004)

We don’t want to review the Constitutional Court; we want to review its powers.

(Interview in The Star Newspaper – Feb 13 2012)

So what?

When compared with other famous presidents Zuma’s gaffes are fairly benign … (hmm I am no longer as sure that those are quite as benign and cute as I thought they were when I wrote that early Monday morning … but I will let it stand for now.) What is interesting is how socially conservative some of his off-the-cuff comments are. It gives some insight into the gradually building pressures in the ANC with regard to appealing to an urban professional class versus traditional rural groups. There is no question that Zuma represents only one of those choices.

Bits and pieces

  • Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget statement received both criticism and praise. Cosatu’s spokesman Patrick Craven described it as “a conservative macroeconomic framework predicated on a neo-liberal paradigm”. Piet le Roux, the senior economic researcher at Solidarity (coming, in some ways, from the other side of the spectrum) said Gordhan’s mini budget was based on an “unsustainable model of deficit spending, mounting government debt and onerous taxation”.
  • The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) announced on Friday (25/10/13) it would consult its members on a possible strike after it received a certificate to strike at Impala Platinum (Implats) when wage negotiations deadlocked. Amcu is demanding a basic salary of R12 500 a month for underground workers and R11 500 for surface workers.

This is a quick and casual aside as I await the more weighty matters of Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget policy statement at 14h00 today.

For various reasons* I attempt to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving technological and cultural aspects of what we call ‘social media’

New cultural trends drive developments in language and there are a couple of new words and usage that I found interesting enough to share here.

Recently a person I follow on Twitter (Sarah Britten who goes by the handle @ananitus – I love her stuff and follow her across several media platforms) used a hashtag to characterise the flood of criticism she got when she mentioned that she had gone to a chiropractor for relief from some or other ailment.

Most of the criticism/advice came from men and she called it (the criticism and advice) “#mansplaining’ as in: enough with the #mansplaining, I don’t need you to tell me whether alternative medicine is unscientific or illogical (that’s not a quote, I don’t have a record of the original interchange, but that is roughly how I remember it).

I immediately felt slightly embarrassed. Oops, busted. I have been patiently mansplaining to the women in in my life that their views are illogical and unscientific ever  since I was a too serious boy. Hurumph Hurumph – stroke my beard, push my eyebrows together, suck on my pipe. You see Josie/Mom/darling the scientific method exposes astrology as  … blah blah.  Yeah, right.

A hashtag (#) is a kind of metadata tag that allows all future conversations that deal with the same topic to be grouped and therefore accessible.

Listicle is another new word (well, new to me anyway) that perfectly sums up a phenomenon to which we are all being increasingly exposed. A listicle is an article that presents itself as a list.

It can be any rubbish … just make it up. The 10 ugliest South African politicians. The five top reasons to vote/not to vote for the ANC in 2014. Seven reasons that Blade Nzimande has become a recluse (or the 50 reasons he should become a recluse). Five secrets that are keeping Zuma in power. The 10 hottest DA members of parliament. Five reasons why South Africa sucks as an investment destination. The three top reasons why Zuma’s critics should keep their tax affairs in order. Five reasons we should not listen to the rubbish spouted by political analysts. The ten least known Zuma sexual conquests. Four ANC members most likely to become president in the next 20 years.

The point that I find so interesting is that  listicles  are almost irresistible to your finger hovering on the mouse. Just look at The Huffington Post and you will understand just how compelling (and trashy)  listicles are.

In fact listicles are so compelling that they can usefully to termed ‘click bait‘. Anyone who has ever flicked a gaudy lure in front of a fish in the hope of irresistibly drawing the fleeting piscene attention long enough to embed the hook in the creatures mouth (goodness, when I put it like that fishing sounds a faintly monstrous activity) will immediately understand what ‘click bait’ means.

I have held out against using listicles as click bait on my blog. I hope I am never reduced to heading a post with Top five political risks to investment in South Africa or 3 reasons supporting a sovereign downgrade or even Top 10 best dressed ANC NEC members. But you never know; desperate times lead to desperate measures.

 

 

*For me it’s a professional imperative: I have to get my views out there to persuade those  who might want to pay for those views (supposedly delivered in more depth) that the said views might be worth paying for … so I  trundle out my free-to-air discussion and curating on a range of platforms in the hope that this will generate paid work … which it generally does, btw. The two other reasons are

  • posting forces me to come up with a view on the unfolding situation … I am never certain what I think about something until the moment I am forced to say to someone else what it is I think – so thanks, you are that someone else;
  • keeping the blog is a way of safely storing a history of my views – this is all sitting out here in the interweb, a record of my views, safely stored away from my own lack of competence or the ill-fortune of my laptop.
  • the cloud.

Forgive the dearth of postings here … I was brought low by some late winter dreaded lurgy and as a result my life came to grinding halt for almost two weeks.

The big story (which I will deal with later today or tomorrow)  is the astonishingly decisively manner in which the ANC and its government is blocking Cosatu on a whole range of policy issues … immediately prior to an election.

Later today I will  attempt to assess whether the medium-term budget policy statement holds the same line, particularly with regard to the public sector wage bill. If it does then I am going to have to start reassessing whether Jacob this-isn’t-some-African-shithole Zuma is quite as soft-in-the-middle on policy as I have previously asserted. The implications of the putatively shifting position are huge and, I suspect, driven by a complex and contradictory set of factors.

Meanwhile here is an excerpt from my weekly news commentary describing the rising decibels and pitch of the moan coming from business and its representatives (and from financial markets in general) around policy, especially policy related to the labour market. The ascending pitch and loudness of the whine are undoubtedly two of the factors pushing Zuma’s showdown with Cosatu – but I think it would be premature to think of the president’s actions as primarily about bowing down to business and the diktats of global capital markets.

South Africa deteriorating investment destination

Complaints about South Africa’s hostile policy environment are getting louder.

Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese added his voice to a chorus complaining about a hostile investment environment in South Africa. In other African countries “infrastructure is improving, border crossings are becoming easier, more property development is taking place and, in some cases, they are offering more opportunities.” But in South Africa government is “certainly not cooperative” and “one is left with the impression that government sees business as the opposition, not as a partner … you can’t have German rules because we can’t administer them,”

The wizened and iconoclastic Christo Wiese held up Angola, Nigeria and, especially, Rwanda as improving business destinations. South Africa’s labour regime, according to Wiese, is becoming one of the greatest inducements to invest in other African countries. (Wiese was quoted in an interesting interview with Chris Barron in the Sunday Times 22/10/2013 – here’s a link to the republished article in Business Day … Barron is always interesting and not to be missed in your weekly news read.)

Wiese’s comments came soon after Moody’s Investor Services said in a credit opinion on 12 October that South Africa’s elevated strike activity continues to affect the investment climate. “BMW’s announcement that South Africa has been removed for consideration for the new car is tangible evidence of the negative impact that the increase in work days lost to strikes in the past two years is likely to pose for the medium-term outlook of the economy … Such decisions are likely to be repeated by other companies when such significant losses are incurred -” Bloomberg and Moody’s Credit Opinion 12/10/2013.

In the same week Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said (after the company was again battered by strikes) that it “is not possible that we can continue with these kinds of strikes, which are having an effect not only on the mining sector but all sectors of the economy. It’s hurting the economy … It is impacting jobs” – Business Day 16/10/2013.

From extensive plans to cut 230,000ozs of achievable platinum as well as 14 000 jobs announced in January this year, Amplats appears to have been steadily successfully bullied back by unions, government and the ANC from doing what it initially intended.

Read against South Africa’s scores in the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 2014 (click here for a full copy) some of this anxiety seems justified. While South Africa is ranked 53rd this year out of 148 countries, the quality of the educational system is very poor at 146th, as was labour market efficiency at 116th – and ‘hiring and firing practices’ and ‘wage flexibility’ at 147th and 144th respectively. The ability of the employer to respond quickly to changing production needs for skills and size of workforce is called ‘labour market flexibility’- and aggregating our performance in these categories suggests a serious deficit compared with our peers.

Okay, so that sets the background for a follow-on post (today or tomorrow) dealing with the now unavoidable conclusion that Zuma’s government appears to be risking the wrath of its left-wing allies with regard to a range of policy measures. The important question to answer is ‘why’ is the ANC drawing the line? And why now?

 

Some of my recent news coverage and commentary:

E-tolling and the DA’s cruel billboards

Last week Jacob Zuma signed into law the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill – meaning the unpopular e-tolling can begin on certain Gauteng highways.

I was impressed that the President did the necessary – despite the fact that this will cost the ANC votes in the 2014 poll especially in the closely contested Gauteng and especially amongst the class of people the ANC is, supposedly, at risk of losing to opposition parties.

Of course failure to sign the law might have led to downgrades by rating agencies and an even more hostile report from the IMF … but good for him anyway!

The interesting aside is that last week huge billboards sprung up along those highways saying things like: “E-tolling – Proudly brought to you by the ANC”.

ANC-e-tolls-billboard

Of course that campaign is funded by the Democratic Alliance snapping with its sharp little teeth at the ruling party’s heals .

Or perhaps it is more like being savaged by a duck?

Whatever, it’s all part of the razzmatazz that is going to be seriously tiring in about four months’ time but for the moment is mildly entertaining.

Election 2014 – the Zuma swings and the Zuma roundabouts

The major weeklies continued their faintly mindless coverage of Election2014.

City Press ran with two stories about how the ANC had decided to put Jacob Zuma delivering 50 specific and successful infrastructure projects at the centre of the ruling party’s election campaign. Not quite the shock the screaming headlines claim it to be.

All the Sunday Papers covered the fact that last weekend’s National Executive Committee of the ANC nullified the previous week’s Provincial General Council of the ANC in Gauteng. At issue was that the ANC in Gauteng is clearly not delighted to have to front itself with this particular president and believes its supposedly more urbane, sophisticated urban voters would be better wooed by Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and/or Kgalema Motlanthe.

Deep behind the chatter is the growing view that the Zuma-face of the ANC is unlikely to charm the middle classes. The basic reasons, according to feisty City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, are made explicit in the Gupta wedding scandal cover-up:

“(it was not) the first time the party has been damaged by our president’s careless ways and friendships, which morph too easily into cronyism and patronage. There is a long line of infractions, stretching from the arms deal and his relationship with Schabir Shaik, to the rape trial he faced (the president was acquitted), the news of a child born out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza, the splurge at Nkandla and the game-playing with the courts around the spy tapes.” (Said the delightful, clever and middle-class Ferial Haffajee in her column in City Press  on 06/10/2013)

The rumour mill is constantly hinting that in certain constituencies the ANC will lose votes because of perceptions about Jacob Zuma’s cronyism and his traditionalist lifestyle choices. The hints usually suggest that the ANC’s own polling information confirm the view.

Frankly it would hardly be a big surprise if certain middle class constituencies are not enamoured with Jacob Zuma. Previous elections strongly indicate that the president is wildly popular in poorer and rural communities, so things are likely to balance out for the ANC.

What would be a surprise is if government got its act together with regard to infrastructure delivery in any meaningful way before Election2014. While a burst of energy can only be a good thing, do not expect a miraculous improvement in infrastructure delivery to result from the ANC’s election campaign.

Microlending falls from favour

Microlending as a business took a number of hits this past week. Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the microcredit lender Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, warned that microlending to finance consumption could lock the poor into a life of poverty.

More importantly from a local perspective, Futuregrowth Asset Management’s Andrew Canter was quoted in the Business Times (06/102013) saying the company would “wind down” its exposure to microlenders, including Capitec, African Bank and other unsecured lenders on “moral grounds” (unfortunately the story doesn’t specify if Canter was purely referring to Futuregrowth’s SRI funds – which would be my expectation.) Canter, according to the paper, said: “We have always backed the responsible firms, but the industry structure has provoked industry behaviours that are not good for consumers, or in our view, the nation” … but, he said, Futuregrowth would not make a “panic exit”. “If industry practices improve, or particular players create more sustainable lending products, we will look to back them.”

The microcredit industry has always been controversial and becomes more so when consumers are struggling to make repayments in declining economic conditions. With the link having been drawn between the Marikana tragedy and the extent to which the strikers where in dire straits with regard to loan repayments, it was only a matter of time before sentiment towards the lenders would sour. With sentiment this negative, government is likely to further tighten regulatory control of the sector, especially in an election build-up.

The judiciary – it’s that Jacob Zuma problem again

In a matter almost as impenetrable as it is serious, a judicial tribunal appointed to probe Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged attempt to influence two Constitutional Court judges to rule in President Jacob Zuma’s favour when he was fending off serious allegations of corruption got under way last week.

Amongst the complicating factors is that the two judges Hlophe allegedly tried to influence, Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde, have indicated they do not wish to proceed with the complaint.

I am not going to pretend to be able to analyse adequately what is going on here. Follow Pierre De Vos at his excellent blog Constitutionally Speaking for all matters relating to politics and the constitution. There is going to be a lot of complex legal argument around this matter but most constitutional experts suggest that the judiciary will be harmed almost no matter the outcome.

The point we unfortunately have to keep uppermost in our minds is that politicians, and especially their machinations in internal struggles within the ruling party, have damaged our systems of law and the institutions that are important to our democracy – from the judiciary, to the prosecutorial authority and including all state sectors directly concerned with national security (including the SAPS, crime intelligence and National Intelligence Service.) And further, such damage continues unabated as powerful groups in the ruling alliance war against each other.

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 an extract from my recent political news update.

Strikes – turbulence as the cycle hits the secular trend

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

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

So what?

I mentioned previously:

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

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

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

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

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

Lock-out

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

Alliance Summit

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

The Declaration situated the discussion by arguing that:

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

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

On macroeconomic policy the summit called for:

… bold forms of state intervention, including through:

  • Financial regulation and control;

  • Progressive and redistributive taxation

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

Criminal justice system appropriately named

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

So what

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

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

Editor flees from Gupta TV

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

So what

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

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

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

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

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

……………………………………………………………..

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

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

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

Zwelinzima Vavi’s suspension from Cosatu and the ANC/SACP/Num decision not to attend the Marikana commemoration, both on Friday last week, are, to my mind, indicative of a significant retreat of ANC hegemony.

Hegemony’,  as I imbibed the concept from probably slightly fevered readings of Antonio Gramsci’s sublime Prison Notebooks while I was a student activist (and from endless discussions in those semi-mythological ‘smoke filled rooms’) has proved, for me personally, a useful and adaptable tool for conceiving of the ebb and flow of political power.

The concept comes from the Greek word ἡγεμονία (look at me … I can cut-and-paste from Wikipedia) which means both ‘rule’ and ‘leadership’ but especially implied and indirect power or rule.

Hegemony (in my own lexicon) is used to describe the myriad ways in which the dominant group extends its direct power (let’s say, for argument’s sake, that direct power is that exercised through party discipline, or through the state, especially apparatuses of implicit or actual coercion). The extension of the reach of the dominant group beyond the immediate terrain that it obviously controls and into the middle ground or the rest of society (usually conceived of as civil society) is what I think of as hegemony. It is direct power extended as influence and leadership and as a result of occupying the high ground and by in some way representing the national as opposed to sectional interests and, ultimately, effective through persuasion rather than control - forgive all the awkward italicising.

The ANC that won to power in South Africa during the end of the 80′s and early 90′s was, to my mind, the exemplary example of the exercise of hegemony. The only power available to the ANC during this period was so called  ‘soft power that derived from its occupation of the moral high-ground and came about as a result of its (the ANC’s) careful building of broad fronts and tighter, more disciplined formations, like the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance itself.

This is the context in which I assess both Vavi’s suspension from Cosatu and the fact that the Marikana commemoration appears to have been a ‘no-go area’ for the Ruling Alliance. Obviously both news items can be understood as important for other reasons, but this is the prism through which I have chosen to view them.

(Note: ‘retreating power or hegemony” is not the same as having  ‘lost power or hegemony’. I am not saying in raising the points below that the ANC has lost its ability to ‘influence’ and ‘lead’ … rather I am saying that there are signs that it is significantly weakened in this regard. Not explored in this article is the consequences – which I believe are extremely serious and threatening – of any such potential loss of ANC hegemony. I have previously discussed this in an article entitled Beware the thing that might pick up power lying in the street and I have made similar points in Zuma’s brittle grip tightens.)

Cosatu suspends Vavi – and the Ruling Alliance shudders

Zwelinzima Vavi, suspended after a special meeting of Cosatu’s central executive committee on Wednesday last week, has indicated that he will challenge the decision in court.  During his press conference on Friday announcing this, Vavi released a document containing what purports to be a series of intelligence reports claiming that he (Vavi) is part of a US ‘soft-power’ plot to undermine Cosatu and the ANC.

Vavi’s strategy, and that of his supporters, appears to be to mobilise ordinary workers, notably in the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) as well as in those branches, regions and local areas of otherwise anti-Vavi unions where Vavi remains popular with the rank and file – including, for example, the Kokstad region of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).  The ‘fight back’ strategy will culminate in a special Numsa congress to be held in December.

So what?

Vavi’s refusal to accept his suspension and his publically announcing that he will contest in court the Cosatu CEC decision suspending him is more serious than it first appears – and may well lead to his expulsion. (To get a sense of why this may be the case, here is what Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general, said of Vavi’s decision to challenge his suspension: “This is unprecedented. It is the worst case of organisational ill-discipline. If the ANC takes me through a disciplinary process, the worst thing I can ever do is to go out and attack the ANC. That is unheard of” – Sunday Times.)

The so-called ‘intelligence document’ that Vavi released on Friday (available as a pdf at the Mail and Guardian website here) appears to be a clumsy attempt to discredit Vavi by linking him (and various other Zuma opponents) to comical ‘imperialist plots’ to spread coups and chaos in Africa. The contents of the document are not worthy of consideration. However, if it is true, as Vavi claims, that his opponents in Cosatu and the ANC distributed the document, it is legitimate to consider the possibility that it was produced in a ‘dirty tricks’ department somewhere within the state security apparatus and/or somewhere close to the leadership of the ruling party.

The outstanding question is whether Vavi’s suspension or expulsion could lead to a defection of Numsa and other unions or parts of unions from Cosatu. The labour environment could be catastrophically impacted upon by this kind of collapse of Cosatu – especially if Numsa, already the largest, best organised and, perhaps, most militant Cosatu union, decides to contest with other Cosatu unions (especially Num) for membership.

The difficulty in making an assessment of whether Numsa could split from Cosatu is rooted in the fact that there is no template for the consequences of the factional driven axing of such a senior, respected and popular alliance leader such as is Vavi.

Up until now it was always a good bet that while ‘left’ and other ‘militant’ factions of the Alliance might fight against various positions and policies with which they disagree, the benefits of being within the Alliance always outweighed the loss of access to the policy-making/leadership-election processes that would go along with being outside the Alliance.  However, Vavi represents, more than any other single individual, the ‘left’ critique of ANC/government corruption (particularly allegations around Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence) and of government economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) and it is distinctly possible that ‘left’ factions of Cosatu could conclude that the space for them to operate within the alliance would be closed down if Vavi is forced out.

Marikana – ANC and Num refuse to participate in commemorations

The African National Congress, the SACP and the National Union of Mineworkers boycotted the first anniversary commemoration of the Marikana killings, saying the event was “hijacked” (Num), that Amcu was  “a vigilante grouping” (SACP, quoted in Business Day 16.08.13) and that the “commemoration is organised by an illegitimate team called ‘Marikana support group’” (ANC, quoted in Business Day 16.08.13).

Thousands gathered on Friday at the hillside in Marikana where 34 mineworkers were shot a year earlier. During the commemoration, Lonmin CEO Ben Magara “apologised for last year’s deaths, the first and only company or government official to do so” – Business Day 19.08.13.  Ben Magara said at the commemoration: “I heard about your request to employ a relative of each of the deceased. I heard about the request for R12,500. I am here today to say: let us sit down and talk”. Joseph Mathunjwa, president of Amcu said this apology “was overwhelming” … he is the only person who came and gave an apology and he was not (at the time of the massacre) even part of the management … not even government has done that …his gestures show that he is a man who is willing to engage” – Business Day 19.08.13.

During the commemoration Dali Mpofu, legal representative of injured and arrested miners at the Farlam Commission, acted as the master of ceremonies, Julius Malema was among the speakers and Agang SA leader, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, “deposed” PAC leader Letlapa Mphahlele, NFP leader Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota, African People’s Convention leader Themba Godi, EFF leaders Kenny Kunene and Floyd Shivambu and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa also attended (City Press).

So what?

The complete retreat of the ANC and its allies (the SACP and Cosatu) in Marikana represents a highly significant loss of political terrain. The commemoration gathering was widely accepted and legitimate, Lonmin was represented as was a broad cross-section of the Nkaneng community as well as church, political and worker organisations. The fact that this was a ‘no-go area’ for the ANC and its allies is, in my opinion, the most significant evidence of loss of ANC hegemony since the 1994 election. The political loss for the ANC is reproduced throughout the platinum sector and tracks the relative gain of Amcu and the losses of Num. The opposition political parties are hovering around the platinum sector hoping to pick up the votes the ANC loses … but it is not yet evident which parties, if any, will benefit from the ANC’s apparent loss of support and legitimacy amongst platinum mineworkers. However, the existence of ‘no-go areas’ in national election campaigns is a recipe for violence.

Here are some bits and pieces of my latest commentary:

Vavi and Numsa – the underlying risks

Zwelinzima Vavi faces a special central executive committee of Cosatu meeting today to decide his fate following his admission that he had sex with a junior Cosatu employee in her office in the Cosatu headquarters. Numsa, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (perhaps Cosatu’s largest union after the collapse of Num in the face of Amcu competition) characterises the attempt to discipline, and possibly shaft, Vavi as  “a  real rupture in the Alliance, and therefore in Cosatu, the ANC and the SACP between the forces of socialism and the forces of neoliberal capitalism”. There is widespread speculation that Numsa might exit Cosatu if Vavi is axed.

So what?

It would be a mistake  to dismiss Numsa’s position as just so much socialist babble and dissembling (although I did I see a  recent Numsa paper defending Vavi with this quote from the Communist Manifesto: “The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations … law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices” – tee hee ).

Numsa reads the pressure being placed on Vavi as rooted in Vavi’s criticism of the ANC leadership with regard to corruption and with regard to the ANC’s adoption of the National Development Plan. For Numsa and ‘the left’ in Cosatu/ANC/SACP,  Vavi’s sexual practices are irrelevant, the ‘real’ issue is that the Zuma-led ANC and its allies in Cosatu and the SACP are attempting to rid themselves of a strident critic before the 2014 election. The left is, implicitly, saying: ‘you are trying to get rid of Vavi so that you can continue stealing from state coffers and selling us to the global corporations in whose pockets you now reside.’

The strategic planners around Zuma probably did want to get rid of Vavi and saw the sexual misconduct as an opportunity to do so with the least cost to Alliance strength and unity. However a result that leads to Numsa splitting from Cosatu might end up being catastrophic for Zuma and his allies. Numsa is the best organised and most militant union in Cosatu. It already effectively competes with Num (at Medupi for example) and if it were to set itself up in competition to other Cosatu unions the platinum sector circa-2012 could, conceivably, end up looking like a labour-relations picnic. Such a split could also cause unforeseeable disruptions in the ANC’s electoral support, conceivably leading to a political realignment and possibly to the formation of a ‘left’ or ‘workers’ party.

However, the Zuma administration and the central ANC leadership is desperately trying to unite the constituent elements of the Alliance behind the National Development Plan – partly in an attempt to prove to global capital markets and other investors that the ANC is serious about creating a settled environment for investment, and partly because it appears to believe that plan is the right path to ensure increased levels of economic growth and employment. Numsa sees the NDP as a direct extension of the ‘neoliberal’ Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic policy.

To understand more fully what is at stake here it is interesting to examine how Numsa, in its own words, understands the NDP and GEAR and how it interprets the ‘real’ reasons the Zuma leadership is attempting to get rid of Vavi:

“The capitalist neoliberal trajectory which the ANC leadership had  adopted”, designed to “ deepened and entrenched South African capitalism” and “ it also laid the grounds for deepening imperialist domination in South Africa” … “allowed monopoly capitalism to evade expropriation“  … “thus in fact GEAR negated one of the fundamental objectives of any liberation struggle – the elimination of imperialism”.  Finally: “Inevitably, the rupture in Cosatu is between those who want to see a thoroughgoing implementation of the Freedom Charter …  and those who are consciously or unconsciously defending South African capitalism and imperialism by defending the NDP and not openly supporting the implementation of the Freedom Charter, especially its nationalisation demands.”

The stakes are high. The Zuma administration needs to prove to investors that these political positions are not represented in ANC policy making AND it has to keep the Ruling Alliance intact. The disciplining of Vavi today brings this to a head. The Zuma aligned faction probably wants to achieve a disciplining of Vavi with regard to his public utterances but to a degree that keeps Numsa in the tent. It’s a delicate balance and fraught with risk.

 

The Democratic Alliance – much talk of the possibility of taking Gauteng

The DA Electoral College decided late last week that Mmusi Maimane will head its campaign to take Gauteng from the ANC is 2014. Maimane stood against Jack Bloom for the position of ‘premier candidate’ for the DA in Gauteng. The election comes amidst increased media speculation that the Official Opposition could realistically pursue victory against the ANC in the economic heartland of the country.

So what?

The peculiarly South African ‘coded’ relevance of this story, is that Maimane is black and Bloom is white – and therefore the DA electoral college’s choice of Maimane over the more experienced Bloom is seen as indicative of the DA’s decision to ‘go all out’ to win a greater share of the black vote, especially in the region where it is assumed that ‘urban African professionals’ are both most abundant and most likely to be disaffected with corruption and ANC failures of governance.

At this distance out from a national election any definite prediction about results should be taken with a mountain of salt. Parties are either trying to talk up their chances or are predicting dire results to scare their members and supporters into campaigning mode. In the 2009 election the Democratic Alliance won 16.6% of the vote in Gauteng and it is vanishingly unlikely that the party will win a majority in the province in 2014. It is conceivable that the DA could find itself in a position to lead an alliance of parties to victory over the ANC in the province next year. However the parties themselves and their expensive private polling consultants possess the only real ‘scientific‘ (probably ‘empirical’ is better) – ed) data. Any hints that emerge into the public domain that come from those party contracted polling agencies are probably designed to serve specific party objectives, rather than the truth – and should be treated with maximum scepticism.

 

Zuma expected to tell SADC ‘our work in Zimbabwe is done’

It is unlikely that the 15 member SADC Heads of State meeting scheduled to take place on August 17 will call for a coalition government in Zimbabwe – as the body did after the disputed 2008 elections. City Press reported on Sunday that a source close to the South African mediation effort has said: “As far as South Africa is concerned, we have ended mediation in Zimbabwe”. It is likely that the regional body will vote to accept the election result (although not unequivocally and not without polite reservations) and further, that the body will call for the UK and the US to drop sanctions against Zimbabwe as part of an economic recovery plan.

So what?

The SADC is likely to err on the side of order if the trade-off is between political/economic stability and electoral fairness in the region. In 2008 the body assessed that the election was so unfair that accepting Mugabe’s refusal to acknowledge an MDC victory would be an unstable result. Thus the body forced Mugabe and his party into a coalition government. The estimation appears, this time around, to be that accepting a Zanu-PF victory is the more stable of the possible outcomes – and that stability is rooted in Zanu-PF having performed better and the MDC having performed worse this time around.

There is an interesting account in the Mail & Guardian of how Zanu-PF won Harare from the MDC that bears testimony to a real shift in voter sympathies in Zimbabwe – as opposed to purely cheating and skullduggery on Zanu-PF’s part (catch that story here). It is impossible to make a serious estimation of how much Zanu-PF’s victory was legitimate and how much a result of the aforementioned skullduggery. However, it is my opinion that the SADC will conclude that enough of the victory is ‘legitimate’ to declare it so, and thereby help make it so.

The outstanding questions, it seems to me, are:

• Will the party implement the indigenisation programme in a way that further drives foreign investment out of the economy?
• Will the party implement catastrophic monetary and fiscal policy?

It is probably a correct response to be ‘optimally cautious’ rather than ‘cautiously optimistic, given Zanu-PF’s serious mismanagement of the economy post-1999. However, it is also important to think of Zanu-PF and Mugabe as conscious and politically aware players in their game. Zanu-PF is likely to be cautious about policy – it is no longer necessary to implement ‘panic’ measures and any incumbent administration is likely to want to seek a degree of economic stability. This does not mean Zanu-PF will back-off ‘indigenisation’ – it appears to have worked for the party up to a point. But it does mean that Mugabe and his party are unlikely to implement indigenisation that further (i.e. any worse than it already has) breaks international norms and standards about property or in a manner that causes a stampede out of the economy. (Important qualification: One of my colleagues who specialises in analysing platinum companies has suggested that the indigenisation ‘deals’ that were struck prior to the election are actually coming ‘unstuck’ because Zanu-PF appears to believe it can get more favourable terms now that it has won such a divisive victory in the election. If that is, in fact, the case then it would be appropriate to be less confident of my formulation that  “Zanu-PF is likely to be cautious about policy”.)

Additionally, a serious and high-risk ‘unknown’ is what might happen if and when Mugabe (finally) dies. My own assumptions about how history works is that individuals rarely make a huge difference to outcomes. However, through careful manipulation and a clever ruthlessness Mugabe has become the lynchpin of Zanu-PF power and I am uncertain as to what might happen if a vacuum suddenly appears in the space he currently occupies, but I think it is unlikely to be pretty.

 

Pravin Gordhan – mutters at The Treasury

“Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s leadership style has been called into question as treasury employees accuse him of taking a unilateral decision to cut performance bonuses by more than half, while failing to condemn publicly the expenditure on the multimillion-rand upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s compound in Nkandla” – Mail & Guardian.

So what?

Aggrieved staff members are not necessarily the most reliable critics of the bosses for whom they toil. However, successive ANC governments have relied on the Department of Finance being a centre of excellence that consistently trains and/or attracts top, highly motivated and effective officials – so any signs of serious stress in the organisation is worthy of consideration. The article, from the ‘quality weekly’, quotes a ‘senior official’ in the following manner: “Since he [Gordhan] was appointed as minister, things have never been the same in the national treasury. He brought a management style that is foreign to the team of the national treasury. He sometimes speaks to the management team like they are kids. His leadership style has seen many of the senior treasury employees, including former director general Lesetja Kganyago, leaving … All he is focusing on is making sure that he is reappointed as the minister of finance after next year’s election. People here say that this is one of the reasons he does not condemn the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that was spent on the president’s residence”

In the same story, the Democratic Alliance finance spokesman Tim Harris claims that recent replies by the Treasury to the party’s parliamentary questions revealed a ‘significant’ vacancy rate at senior levels within the department, “in particular, 25 senior employees have left the department in the past year,” he said.

We have to take this from whence it comes (aggrieved employees and the official parliamentary opposition) but the status and functioning of the previously above reproach Treasury is important enough to consider even the fruit of this tainted tree.

 

Julius Malema seeks spiritual guidance

City Press reported on Sunday that Julius Malema and his colleagues in the Economic Freedom Fighters left South Africa on Friday for a week’s visit to a massively popular Nigerian preacher in Lagos who has ‘prophesied’ a huge and bloody revolt in South Africa – presumably one led by Malema. The EFF said in a statement that this is a “spiritual visit to meet and create friendship with this son of Africa and his congregation, and ask for blessings on the journey ahead”.

So what?

Nothing really … it’s just that Malema’s antics are endlessly entertaining. Of course this lighthearted approach is based purely on the belief that Julius and cronies are never going to get anywhere in their political party endeavours. If the EFF ever looked like it was a real threat I would probably not be sniggering up my sleeve at their tormenting of the ANC …

Herewith my news commentary as of yesterday morning. I thought I would republish it here because it includes my brief assessments of how to think about the Zimbabwe election, Vavi and the EFF. I also, politely, imply that the Seriti commission might be a cover-up and that Amcu’s underlying objectives in the gold sector are potentially quite scary.

Zimbabwe – grin and bear it

Robert Mugabe has won 61% of the votes (2.11 million votes) in the presidential poll, against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34% (1.17 million votes). Zanu-PF won 158 parliamentary seats against the MDC’s 49.

The head of the SADC facilitation process, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office yesterday released a statement that began:

H.E President Jacob Zuma extends his profound congratulations to HE President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013. President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.

The opposition MDC has called the result “fraudulent” and has threatened not to take up its 49 seats and to boycott government institutions and “pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies” (several online news sources, including BBC Africa).

The Mail & Guardian points out that monitors from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have stressed that the elections were peaceful and have endorsed them as ‘broadly free’. In contrast, the United States and European governments, which have sanctions in place against Mugabe over past election-rigging, “listed a litany of alleged flaws in the vote, from lack of availability of the voters’ roll to pro-Mugabe bias in the media and security services that skewed the election run-up” – M&G.

So what?
Even allowing for the myriad ways in which the MDC was (deliberately – and probably illegally) disadvantaged in this election it appears there has been a real shift away from the opposition. Perhaps this is because just by entering the unity government in 2008 the MDC both saved the economy from collapsing (and thereby saved Zanu-PF) and suffered some of the sins of incumbency. Perhaps it was how mediocre Morgan Tsvangirai has turned out and how endless have been his romantic and sexual travails. Whichever. I am not certain that the MDC will follow through and actually not take up it seats – this will only be revealed in the next few weeks.

To repeat comments I made on Friday:

  • It is deeply unfair. The election was brutally stolen in 2008 and every state resource that could be deployed against the MDC has been so deployed in the last 5 years. Slight economic upticks post 2008, the deepening indigenisation programme (or at least the promise of the goodies from the programme) combined with a host of tactical and strategic errors by the MDC appear to have allowed Zanu-PF to ‘pull off’ a victory at the edge of acceptability … and the edge of the law, but just within it. Even if that is not the opinion of the MDC or Western observers, it is going to be the formal assessment.
  • Thus, I am not suggesting that this result reflects the “will of the Zimbabwean people” … but it reflects it adequately to avoid the crisis that would result from an outright declaration that voters’ roll irregularities … and inadequate other preparations … and the historical legacy of repression and cheating … and misuse of security agencies and state media … constitute enough impact to declare the result not reflective of the will of the people.
  • Does this mean Zanu-PF’s deeply investor unfriendly, GDP growth unfriendly, economic policies will continue? Not entirely. I think Zanu-PF has, miraculously, won back a chance to control the post-Mugabe succession period. They very nearly lost it as a result of their catastrophic policies. I expect Zanu-PF to be more cautious and embracing of investors in future … including with regard to the indigenisation programme. 
  • I am less sure  of that final bullet than I was when I wrote it on Friday, but it appears to me that, at very least, Zanu-PF, will have learned a lesson from nearly losing its hold on the country and is likely to give more emphasis to ensuring that the benefits of its economic policies flow to ordinary Zimbabweans (and less to buying off Zanu-PF cronies, which has been the emphasis up until now.)

Arms probe in tatters

Last week Judge Francis Legodi resigned from the The Seriti Commission into the arms deal scandal and evidence leader, advocate Tayob Aboobaker, announced his resignation citing ‘nepotism, unprofessionalism and infighting’ (he may since have withdrawn his resignation). These ructions follow the earlier resignations of senior researcher Mokgale Norman Moabi and the law researcher, Kate Painting.
So what?
The elephant in this room is the Jacob Zuma himself is one of the individual ANC leaders whose reputation has been most tarnished by the scandal (corruption charges against him in this regard were only – controversially – withdrawn in 2009). At the same time, it is Jacob Zuma himself, in his capacity as President, that has instituted this commission, possibly in the hope that he can put the threat of the return of those charges permanently behind him. At this stage the commission is meant to begin hearings today, and among those who will be called are former President Thabo Mbeki, head of Cope and former Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, former Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin and former Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. I think it extremely unlikely that this commission will ever pronounce on why the bizarre decisions were taken to purchase the singularly inappropriate (for the country’s defence needs) set of expensive weapons systems (including 48 Saab Gripen fighters and trainers, 4 Daphne class submarines and 4 frigates). I also think it vanishingly unlikely that the commission will find out where the kickbacks went.

I will not be surprised if it emerges that the resignations from the commission are motivated by the belief that the process will achieve the exact opposite to its apparent purpose.

Zwelinzima Vavi

Several of the weeklies speculate as to whether Zwelinzima Vavi will survive the scandal in which he had unprotected sex in Cosatu’s headquarters with a junior employee whose employment in Cosatu he had irregularly organised – and who accused him of rape and later withdrew the charge in an internal Cosatu procedure.

So what
I covered this in some detail last week, but there is an implication to what is happening here that needs emphasising.

The ANC is facing an election next year and much of the pressure Vavi has been under up until now (from ANC/Zuma loyalists in Cosatu) has been directed at pulling him (Vavi) into line, to stop him constantly accusing government leaders of corruption, to stop him criticising macro-economic policy. The ANC needs to establish a united front so that it can take on the various challenges it faces in the national election next year. 

But there is a difference between placing pressure on Vavi and forcing him out of Cosatu. If Vavi is forced to resign because of his actions in relation to the junior employee it is not inconceivable that Cosatu’s biggest union Numsa might go with him.

It is as if the ANC has been pushing a board – that it thought was solid – to get it into a better position. But the board was rotten all along and it suddenly collapses as it is being pressed. An actual split in Cosatu that drove the most left-wing elements together and out of the ruling alliance would be negative for the ANC in a number of ways. It would further weaken the credibility of the trade union ally, it could raise the spectre of a viable ‘left’ party, it could force the ANC into having to contest on too many fronts in the 2014 election, it could increasingly lead to policy paralysis in government and it could cause serious labour unrest as Cosatu member unions reconstitute and split in a number of different industries. None of this is certain (or even likely) but it is a threat or a series of threats we need to bear in mind.

Economic Freedom Fighters – taxing times … but behind the theatre there are credible risks

Along the same lines as the above, the latest round in the colourful pageant of Julius Malema’s attempts to re-establish himself at the centre of South African politics came yesterday when he mounted a fierce attack on the South African Revenue Service (the full text published at politcsweb.co.za) after SARS made public the details of his tax record. (Here for the SARS statement and here for Malema’s response.)
So what?
SARS is defending itself from Julius Malema’s accusation that it is being used as a tool by what Malema calls the ZANC (the Zuma ANC). The truth or otherwise of this particular matter cannot be established, but I wanted to use the opportunity to raise what I see as the main risk associated with the Economic Freedom Fighters. The risks are not dissimilar to those associated with a potential ‘left’ split in Cosatu. It is increasingly likely that the ANC will be contesting the 2014 elections with significant threats both to its ‘left’ and its ‘right’.

The Democratic Alliance, perhaps in a formal alliance with other opposition parties and independent candidates is starting to seriously consider the possibility that it could win the Western Northern and Northern Cape and come achingly close in the, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. While I am unable to assess whether these are realistic objectives, I think it is important to consider how the ANC might behave if it faces this threat at exactly the point as its own members, allies and the Economic Freedom Fighters, place it (the ANC) under pressure.

I have no grounds to argue that the EFF and any ‘workers’ party’ that could conceivably emerge from a split in Cosatu could win enough votes to become a viable parliamentary opposition, but I do think that the operation of these forces place the ANC in an awkward, even untenable, ‘policy’ and ‘message’ position.

In adopting the investor friendly National Development Plan at Mangaung and in the presidency’s concerted attempts to stabilise the platinum mining sector, the Zuma administration has made it clear that it is extremely worried that investor sentiment towards South African policy and policy risk has turned negative. An ANC fighting a populist wildfire from the EFF (perhaps more heat than light … but anyway), an incipient ‘ left’ split from Cosatu and an ascendant DA is hemmed-in, constrained, unable to formulate viable national policies and increasingly tempted to engage in dirty tricks against its enemies.

 

Amcu and the gold negotiations – some tentative speculation

Following Amcu’s apparent walkout from the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation of the gold sector wage negotiation that had become stuck at the Chamber of Mines last week, I made the following comments (note that Amcu has since said it intends participating in the process, although as you will see from the below, I would be cautious of accepting that at face value):

I think that it is directly in Amcu’s rational best interest to:

  •  ensure that collective bargaining through the Chamber of Mines breaks down (i.e. that the central bargaining chamber is destroyed) and that companies are forced to seek agreements on a mine by mine basis; and
  • to provoke crises similar to those that took place at Impala in January last year and Lonmin in August on gold mines where it is not yet recognised as the majority union.

Firstly, why is this “rational”?
Because any of the anger, hot-headedness and youthful passions rooted in the history of Amcu leadership’s conflict with Num would have been burnt out of them last year.

Now it is probably more accurate to conceive of Amcu as rational competitors in a game where the objectives can be stacked in a very similar way to how one would stack objectives of a company with three or four major competitors in a set market.

Amcu can certainly get things wrong – and engage in activities that are counterproductive to the likelihood of it achieving its objectives – but this is less likely to be because Amcu is led by anarchist lunatics, and more likely to be because its leaders have made tactical and strategic errors.

Thus, while it is possible to argue that Amcu’s members and potential members are “tired of strikes” or “unable to bear the burden of further strikes” this should be conceived of as a constraint to Amcu pursuing its objective rather than an absolute barrier.
So what are Amcu’s objectives in the gold sector?
Firstly, to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Num, the loyalty of its (declining) membership, and its abuse of its prior dominance, is the most important obstacle to Amcu achieving its main objective which, unsurprisingly, is to be the only significant union in the resources sector. That is, Amcu’s primary objective is to occupy the eco-niche that Num has occupied up until now.

Trade unionism is a business … it’s about money and power. So yes, Amcu grows by more effectively representing (or portraying itself as more effectively representing) the collective interests of its members or potential members … and thereby actually getting greater numbers of signed up, due-paying members.

However, it cannot be effective in this task, even where it has already got more members than Num … because Num occupies an institutional and regulatory “space” that it is using to maintain its dominance.

Thus, in a central bargaining chamber system where the representivity of the participating members is outdated (as it clearly is in this case) the union that is actually dominant (or in the process of becoming dominant) must destroy the process and force employers to deal directly with it … and not with the old dinosaur that is taking up all the space by trading purely on the institutional lag effect.

So forcing employers to deal with Amcu, on a mine-by-mine basis, seems to be a no-brainer for the upstart union and explains perfectly Amcu’s actions up until now in the gold negotiation process that started 2 weeks ago.

The next step is that Amcu has to establish dominance at each mine … it has to “force” the employer to deal with Amcu rather than Num … even if the outdated books still show Num as the dominant union at each mine.

Thus Amcu will attempt to destroy Num’s negotiating position … it will work to ensure that workers do not feel that whatever Num and management settle for is an adequate settlement. Amcu only wins if that settlement fails; therefore it has an absolute imperative to cause those settlements between Num and management to fail (by proposing levels that are more difficult for management to meet and by mobilising workers against whatever settlement Num reaches).This is a competition that Amcu can lose. Num and management might strike a workable deal that the majority of mineworkers back … but it (Amcu) has got to fight it.

If this is correctly reasoned, there is a strong pressure on the central bargaining system in the gold sector and for possible mine level negotiations to be traumatic – in a very similar way to the trauma associated with strikes in the platinum sector last year and with an almost identical ‘architecture’.

Once (and if) Amcu has crushed Num and established its dominance across the industry its motivational hierarchy changes; it will then want to lock itself into the monopolistic position that Num now occupies. But that is a long way ahead, so long that it is not yet worthy of serious consideration. For now, it (Amcu) is trying to free up space so that it can go head-to-head with Num, which in turn is hiding behind bureaucracy. Thus Amcu is trying to increase competition because it believes in a straight fight it will win.

Finally, Amcu does not have a free hand in pursuing these objectives. Management and Num are going to fight back in all the ways (positive and negative) open to them. Also, workers are tired, indebted, the industry is shrinking and management is looking for excuses to downsize workforces – but within these constraints, I would argue that Amcu is forced by its own nature, to pursue the objectives here set out, as effectively as it can within those constraints.

Herewith 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.)

Imagine you are the producer of a major and successful television soap-opera.

Gradually, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, market research begins to indicate your share of the prime-time television audience is diminishing – and, further, that the declines are accelerating.

I suspect what you do is try to work out whether the viewers are being tempted away by a better soap, whether the quality of your show is slipping and/or whether your product is losing its appeal because the ‘demographic’ that follows your production is shrinking … or some combination of those.

Perhaps you try to adapt your trashy product to follow the shifting demographic; change the time-slot, perhaps kill off the older actors … have the Elizabethan extended family that has been the central theme be infiltrated by shape-shifting aliens who teleport the stately manor out of the English countryside and into a future post-apocalyptic New York … change the name to Downtown Abyss? Ok, maybe not.

Or you do a serious quality overhaul of your existing production, get better writers and introduce more popular and skilled actors, win back the defecting viewers … stick to your knitting, trust the product … and all those other management-speak exhortations.

I think the ANC is facing a crisis similar to that faced by the producers of this imaginary soap-opera. I suspect that the ANC, Agang and the DA do market research that is indicating and projecting significant voter swings away from the ANC . But I have nothing firmly in my hands other than rumours, leaks and hints.

So forgive me if I float an untested (and untestable at this time) hypothesis; one we are all going to hear bruted about soon: that it is ‘true’ that on current trends the ANC will get less than 59 percent of the vote next year but more than 52 percent, and further, that the ANC will receive less than 50 percent of the vote in 2019 (thumbsuck alerts all round).

The assumption is untestable (by me) because I don’t have the bespoke polling data and (by anybody else, in my opinion) because such data do not take adequately into account the myriad subjective and objective factors that might  impact on the trend.

But among the reasons I take seriously the possibility that this is, in fact, the trend is, for example, the rapid growth of Amcu and the concomitant shrinking of  Num. Another is this public domain ranking of Zuma’s approval rating amongst urban Africans by TNS Research published in the Sunday Times on 12/03/13:

%

Apr

‘09

Jun

‘09

Sep

‘09

Nov

‘09

Feb

‘10

May

‘10

Sep

‘10

Nov

‘10

Feb

‘11

Mar

‘11

Sep

‘11

O/N

‘11

Feb

‘12

Apr

‘12

Aug

‘12

Feb

‘13

Approve

52

57

53

58

43

51

42

49

49

48

45

55

55

46

48

41

Disapprove

29

13

19

23

41

33

44

34

35

38

41

38

35

46

44

51

Don’t know

19

31

28

12

17

16

15

17

16

14

14

14

10

8

8

9

Net positives

+23

+24

+34

+35

+2

+18

+2

+18

+2

+15

+14

+1

+20

0

+4

-10

 

… and updated by TNS this Monday (1/7/13) indicating a slight improvement in favour of Zuma (read from the top: 42, 50, 9 and -8). The point is there is a significant drop in Zuma’s approval ratings and concomitant rise in his disapproval ratings from February last year. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that this applies to the ANC (although, again, and at the risk of being pedantic, there is no established corollary between Zuma’s ratings and the ANC’s … but as a personal aside, I would imagine he must represent a specific liability.)

When I think of Mandela’s ill health and what I see as signs of how destabilising for the ANC his passing be may be (although the opposite could also be true), when I consider the anti-Zuma noises coming from Winnie Mandela and the frisson of mischievous excitement around Julius Malema’s proposed Economic Freedom Fighters … and when I put a whole mess of hints, trends, rumours and suppositions together with other metaphorical canaries that I use and which are dying around me like flies, I feel confident, for the first time since 1994, to at least consider how things might be when and if the ANC is clinging to an electoral majority, or perhaps even losing one.

As I begun to consider this (and helped along by a good and irritatingly insistent friend) I discovered that I still, subconsciously, conduct my professional duties under the burden of a normative (as in relating to an ‘ideal standard or model’)  assumption that has remained unchanged and largely unexamined since about 1994.

This normative assumption goes, roughly, something like this:

South African society is shaped by irresolvable contradictions. Most obviously between the poor, largely African, majority and the propertied white minority. Only an African National Congress, held comfortably in power by the trust and momentum established by its role and identity as leader of the liberation struggle, and by its clearly ‘African-led’ character, could possibly negotiate the perilous path between the imperative to deliver radical redress to the African majority and the absolute requirements to operate within the disciplines of global capital markets and to keep whites engaged and invested.

There are so many assumptions – and slippery phrases – in that statement, that I am not sure where to begin.

But briefly (in as far as that is possible):

Firstly I am implicitly using a (somewhat antiquated) theoretical model of society that is based on the idea that the competition between  groups with closely aligned economic interests acts as some kind of driver that interacts with and shapes other features of society, including the state and formal party political contests. This is a (hopefully sophisticated) version of the base/superstructure model of Marxist theory. As a rough, working model, I will continue to employ this system in political analysis – even if it is purely as a way of organising my thoughts. It is an elaboration of the injunction to follow the money which I consistently find the most useful hand-axe in the tool kit I use to help me work out, to my own satisfaction if no-one else’s, what the hell is going on.

Secondly, I am weighting the racial divide, its historical features, its ideological characteristics, the materiality of its ongoing consequences – including the radical disparity in wealth and income – more heavily than any other feature of South African society. ‘Politics’ occurs around such contradictions and our politics remains overdetermined by this structural feature. I think this remains true – but less true than it was 18 years ago. Primarily because class development, including the development of a black wealthy/property-owning class, a black middle-class and a sophisticated and slightly wealthier working class (driven by the changing character and function of labour processes and the relative growth of the services sector) dilutes the central contradiction and adds competing fissures.

Thirdly, I continue to assume it is imperative to keep whites “on board”… and that we have to keep within the discipline of global capital markets. I am also assuming (or perhaps estimating that on balance) the ANC still sees these as fundamental constraints. Those are brave (wild?) assumptions, I know, but I do not have all night. So moving swiftly along …

Finally, the aspect of my normative assumption about which I am most uncertain is the central one. Who says the ANC cannot fall below 50 percent, that an alliance of opposition parties will not get above 50 percent? And that if both those bridges are crossed we are into the game mode where  “(o)nly (the) African National Congress  … could possibly negotiate the perilous path”. Which means?

I  appear to be saying that in the event that those barriers are crossed we will fail to negotiate that path.

That we collapse in a heap? That the ANC morphs into Zanu-PF – but with even scarier tribalist and repressive features – to recapture the political initiative? That the ANC embarks on an ever more expansive looting of private and public assets to feed a patronage system that comes to replace all other mechanism that establish stability, but a system that is absolutely limited by the availability of such lootable assets? Or perhaps that our future will look something like what (might be) happening in Cairo tonight? … I will get to that as soon as I hit “publish”.

If a democratic election goes against the ANC why am I so uncertain that the party or party’s that the same election goes in favour of will be unable to govern?

I suspect I actually believe that without the ANC in a comfortable majority that things fall apart, that the centre cannot hold, that

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed*

Thus, this is little more that my personal failure to imagine a future significantly different from the present, yes?

It appears that I am constrained by my own habits of thought and prejudices. Now there’s a big surprise.

So, back to the soap opera.

If the ANC is slipping in the ratings, it can chase the shifting demographic by attempting to spread its skirts ever more widely – although I think it is already beyond the limits of the possible with that indecorous exercise.

… or it can do the political equivalent of the narrative device of having space aliens infiltrate the family (hmm, that might have happened already – ed).  I am not sure what a radical discontinuity in the ANC’s brand might look like – I think it could go one of two general directions, but I would imagine that the ANC strategists defining ‘the message’ for the upcoming elections must envy the clean simplicity of the Economic Freedom Fighters emerging platform.

… or the ANC could improve its character and performance by sticking to its knitting: cleaning up its leadership and improving its governance performance and winning back the trust of its purportedly defecting support. My impression is the ANC is going in precisely the opposite direction, but who’s to say they wont turn it around in response to a mild shock in 2014?

I  do not hold to the popular notion that “anything is possible”, but I am prepared to accept that a lot more things will come to pass than I have been able to imagine.

* As always, the best poetic accompaniment to fretting about the future of our politics is William Butler YeatsThe Second Coming … catch the incomparable poem here.

Herewith an extract from my weekly news commentary* as of 06h30 yesterday.

‘A minefield of obstacles for Motlanthe’ – Sunday Independent

 The Presidency, in the person of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, launched the “Draft Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry” on Friday. The document is based on an initial process of discussion with all interested parties (including, amongst others, Amcu, Num and the Chamber of Mines) and each party is expected (hoped) to ratify the agreement by June 26. The document essentially acknowledges the importance of the mining sector for investment, economic growth and employment. If it is ratified, all parties would be formally accepting the need to re-establish law-and-order in the sector, improve labour relations and address the housing and community needs of workers and their families, both near the mine and in the labour sending area. The document commits the government to ensuring “that the legislative and regulatory programmes provide predictability and certainty for the industry” including with regard to “tax policy” – those quotes from 6.1.4 and 6.2.1 of the draft document.

So what?

This initiative is no more than the minimum of what has been demanded of government, especially of the commanding heights of government, by most of those affected by the industrial relations crises in the platinum sector that began in early 2012. Thus, Jacob Zuma, and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, are looking busy and engaged with the crises and that will come as a welcome relief after what has appeared to be endless dithering and mixed messages.

However, there should be no expectation that the initiative will miraculously resolve the deep conflicts, both within government and ruling party policy and between the contesting trade unions. The Sunday Independent correctly points out that there is a tension in the government and ANC policy and the newspaper ascribes (or personifies) the tension as being between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (concerned about investment, profitability and revenues) on the one hand and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu as well as ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (concerned that mining companies owe South Africa, particularly black workers, a historic debt).

It is neat (but only partly accurate) to think of the policy conflict as being about the views of different powerful politicians within the government and the ruling party. The reality is that the ANC (and therefore, government) is, and has been since 1994, fundamentally torn between the economic necessity to reassure (mining and other) investors and the political imperative to demand redress and redistribution for its aggrieved constituents. Does the Motlanthe fronted attempt to negotiate a new understanding and modus operandi between the different interest groups in the mining sector represent a qualitative reassessment of where the ANC’s priorities lie? I doubt it, especially not 10 months before a national election where the ANC is starting to feel beset on several fronts but clearly (from a purely numeric perspective) has the most to win and the most to lose in the majority constituency of poor black South Africans.

It is tempting to see Kgalema Motlanthe’s role in the efforts to settle the sector as preparation for him to replace Susan Shabangu in the Minister of Mineral Resources post. Shabangu has gained a reputation as being instinctively suspicious of resource companies – although, again, I would suggest that this is more a characteristic of the ANC itself than of any particular individual. Motlanthe is perceived as ‘a good guy’, a person open to compromise, a peace-maker and a humble and loyal public servant. That would probably be a good thing for sentiment in the sector, but it would be important not to confuse form with content.

 

Julius Malema to party on down?

Malema has been explaining his decision to launch a new, yet to be formed, opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. He yesterday described the ANC as “on a downward spiral ideologically, politically and morally” and under Zuma, as being characterised by “tribalism, regionalism, factionalism and corruption”, essentially “an association of careerists and neo-liberal bureaucrats whose sole mission and role was protecting the interests of white monopoly capital” – see what essentially looks like his draft manifesto on Politicsweb.co.za. At the heart of the expressed policy of the proposed new party (announced in the run up to June 16 Youth Day commemoration) is the demand (that Malema was central to codifying as President of the ANC Youth League) for the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of white owned farm land.

So what?

Can Malema tap into the constituency of young black South Africans who feel abandoned by (or angry with) the ANC over its failure to affect more radical redress and redistribution measures? Can he win, as he promised last week, 5 million votes and thereby replace the Democratic Alliance as the official opposition? (Can he stay out of prison? – ed) Malema has an almost preternatural ability to identify, frame and play into the sense of disaffection amongst the most marginalised young black South Africans and he has the energy and charisma to at least make a go of forming a coherent opposition party. All his significant previous allies who have remained within the ANC (including Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale) came out strongly against of the former Youth League president over this last weekend.  Whether or not Malema manages to form the proposed Economic Freedom Fighters in time for it to have an impact in national elections next year, he will probably succeed in creating a gravitational pole that will keep the ANC from drifting towards business and financial markets. This will not be a new role for him.

 

Zimbabwe elections – Mugabe agrees to seek short delay

A South African Development Community (SADC) extraordinary summit met in Maputo, Mozambique on Saturday and Robert Mugabe acceded to the pressure to attempt to shift-out the July 31 date that had been set for the election in Zimbabwe that will bring to a close the current power sharing arrangement with the opposition Movement for a Democratic Change. Jacob Zuma is the SADC facilitator attempting to radically reform the regulatory, governance and security framework that allowed widespread repression and cheating in the failed 2008 election. None of the parties are ready for an election (including Zanu-PF which, amongst other problems, is riven with division at a central level and in key provinces Masvingo, Bulawayo and Manicaland).

So what?

The key reforms that must be in place for an election to succeed in Zimbabwe relate to control of the security apparatuses and to ensuring impartiality of those apparatuses and to establishing the impartiality of the state-owned media. Also, voter registration and various administrative issues need to be completed or rectified before the election takes place if it is to be ‘free and fair’. Zimbabwe is experiencing the beginnings of an economic recovery. This might benefit the incumbents (Zanu-PF) but the opposition hopes that the growing spirit of optimism will lead voters into their fold. There are no reliable opinion polls, so we will have to wait and see. The significant natural mineral assets, the exceptional tourism possibilities and the fact that a huge but uncounted Zimbabwean diaspora is in South Africa are amongst the issues that make the outcomes of what happens in Zimbabwe important.

Bits and pieces

  • City Press led with ‘War for Gaddafi billions’, based on the premise that two competing Libyan groups are in the country attempting to recover a fortune in gold, cash and diamonds that he (Gaddafi) allegedly stashed here – including a sizeable chunk “in gold bars in safe storage at OR Tambo International Airport” and in cash pallets held in the Reserve Bank. The story claims the Libyan factions are attempting to dangle the promise that the money will be used to buy South African manufactured armaments and that recovery of the many billions of dollars’ worth of assets would earn a 10% finder’s fee. The payload of the story comes in this paragraph: “According to Erasmus (a ‘controversial South African arms dealer’), Mphafudi (‘an ANC connected businessman’) and Maleka (‘the ANC security head’) were working with two Libyan investigators …. (Erasmus) claims that both South Africans accompanied the Libyans to see President Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla homestead.” (The Sunday Times reported that Zuma was accompanied by his cousin Deebo Mzobe during the meeting). Hmm. (Clarifications and emphasis in that quote from the City Press article added by me – ed).
  • Telkom’s bid to sort out its ‘legacy issues’ – by the “write-off of R12 billion in defunct assets” and by the settlement of its various cases with the competition authority – got headline coverage in City Press. “Our key shareholders are frustrated, our customers are frustrated and I can promise that we will not repeat the same mistakes of the past,” said new broom CEO Sipho Maseko last week. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Tina Joemat-Pettersson (Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) was directly accused on the front page of the Sunday Times of receiving a kickback of R100 000 in 2006 for her efforts in closing the purchase of Sunset Game Lodge, outside Douglas, while she was provincial minister in the Northern Cape. The allegation is serious, but as the story points out she is ‘the Teflon Minister’ and it is by no means clear that she will ever meet her comeuppance, no matter what she does or how badly she performs.
  • “Waterkloof scapegoat on warpath” – reports the Mail & Guardian. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, the movement control officer at Waterkloof airbase who was accused of being one of two key rule breakers that allowed the now infamous Gupta wedding party to land and be ferried from the strategically important military base, is approaching the public protector for relief. The Gupta’s of Sahara Computing are friends and funders of Jacob Zuma and his family and it is widely assumed that there was tacit pressure placed on Anderson and other officials to let the friends of “Number One” pass. This is an ugly affair where the real wrongdoers, the powerful and abusive politicians and their friends, get off scot-free and loyal and faithful officials take the fall.
  • Nelson Mandela’s health remains a key media topic (he’s still in hospital) and the symbol of the man is already deeply contested, especially between the ANC and the DA in the lead-up to next year’s elections. Mandela is an almost life-long ANC member and leader, but the DA is attempting (not altogether successfully) to argue that they are the true inheritor of his mantle while the ANC has drifted into a wilderness of incompetence and corruption. If Nelson Mandela dies between now and the national election next year, the essence of this contest would play itself out on perhaps the largest global stage in the history of human-kind.

* I write this news summary for clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities and send it to them at 06h30 Mondays (Tuesday this week) and I occasionally republish it here a few days later if I think it might be of more general interest. I am, of course, grateful to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to do this.

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

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

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

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

Schutte writes:

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

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

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

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

This is what the scoreboard looks like:

poolitics2

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the point expressed graphically:

daviesJ

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

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

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

Herewith an extract from my weekly news summary and analysis.

The big question of the week was the degree to which Zuma’s Thursday morning briefing helped or hindered our economic decline.

I know I cringed as he was speaking, especially during the twinkly admonishment at the end urging journalists present to report favourably on South Africa. I wanted to shout at the TV and call out to my president (and he is my president, however much I might wish it otherwise): “Don’t be cute! This lot is ready to crucify you – and us – don’t you get it!?”

Well, I didn’t say anything … I have not yet sunk to shouting at the TV, but I do find myself switching channels to avoid those excruciatingly embarrassing moments our politicians seem to bless us with on an ever more regular basis. I am embarrassed at my embarrassment – it is such a childish response, but I find it gets worse not better as I get older.

The fact is I think Zuma’s attempt to talk up mining wage negotiations was the right thing to do. The problem, as others have pointed out, is his credibility is so shot that almost anything he says is dismissed by financial markets and the mass media out of hand.

So herewith, from early Monday morning, my analysis of the previous weeks news:

Rand and GDP growth down – the drivers are complicated, but at least some of this is about politics

Last week the Rand hovered around R10 to the dollar as Stats SA released figures that showed South African GDP had grown an unexpectedly low 0.9 % in the first quarter of 2013 (seasonally adjusted, annualised). Then on Thursday Jacob Zuma held a surprise press conference during which he announced that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant would hold talks with parties involved in the coming bargaining season in the mining sector – in the interests of reaching settlements with a minimum of production losses.

During the course of the next forty hours the Rand continued its significant decline and the media, not unexpectedly, busied itself with blaming Zuma’s performance for the country’s economic woes. “Zuma sinks Rand” – The Star, “Rand takes a dive after Zuma pep talk” – Mail & Guardian, “Rand talking cure off to a rocky start” – City Press, “South Africa’s Zuma takes a drubbing for run on rand” – Reuters and “Zuma not only reason for rand fall” –  together these headlines probably give an adequate summary of the media’s take on the week’s economic turmoil.

So what?

Drivers of the price of the ZAR are complex and varied as Business Report (the Sunday Independent’s business section) points out in perhaps the best press economic analysis of the week. Ethel Hazelhurst (Sunday Independent) argues that the rand is primarily being driven by a “cocktail” of uncertainty about US quantitative easing, a continuing slowdown in the Chinese economy, falling commodity prices, a strengthening US dollar and volatility in global markets – and more, that several currency strategists are likely to be recommending ‘buys’ on the rand at this level (which has proved true as the ZAR was at 9.88/$ a few minutes ago). The Sunday Times quotes Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan supporting this view: “We are very confident that the rand will recover in time, that the markets have overreached themselves.”

However, it is my view that the rand’s idiosyncratic behaviour (compared with the basket of currencies from emerging market resource dependent economies) requires further explanation. Traditionally it has been adequate to argue that the ‘idiosyncrasy’ is due to the fact that the rand is particularly liquid and therefore overreacts to more general exits from that group of currencies. However, so called “structural features” that relate to issues as varied as our ‘outlier’ current account deficit, insecurity of the electricity supply, risk of labour unrest and unrealistic labour demands in the mining sector, policy paralysis as a result of the unwieldy ruling alliance, poor governance as a result of preoccupation of political leaders with patronage extraction, corruption, escalating service delivery protests and the permanent risk of instability related to high levels of unemployment and inequality are combining to make for a particularly gloomy South African story at this beginning of winter.

Vavi lives to fight another day

Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu secretary general, has survived the latest attempts to remove him from his position. However an accounting firm will investigate if there was any impropriety in his involvement in the sale ‘the old Cosatu building’ and the purchase of ‘the new Cosatu House’. More importantly there will be various commissions to investigate Vavi’s political loyalties in the light of his failure to adequately articulate Cosatu support for Zuma in the lead-up to Mangaung (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and various online news sources … although be cautious, at least some of these outlets have reported factional rumours about Vavi in the past).

So what?

The deep fracture in Cosatu is assuming a clearer ideological and political character with unions clustered around the Num attacking Vavi especially for disloyalty to Zuma and the ANC and unions clustered around Numsa defending Vavi and asserting that his criticism of the ANC leadership for corruption and policy meandering are correct and appropriate. The issues are complex – as I have repeatedly discussed before – but it is probably true to argue that Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa have become the most significant source of opposition to Zuma’s government and leadership of the party, outweighing even that coming from opposition parties in parliament. No matter what happens with the investigation into Vavi there is likely to be a widespread belief that Vavi is the victim of a ‘stitch up’ (slang for framing someone for a crime or misdemeanour).

National Prosecuting Authority – further evidence of structural negatives

Last week senior state prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach was cleared of 15 disciplinary charges brought against her by the National Prosecuting Authority. The subtext of all of the coverage in the weeklies is contained in the summary analysis by constitutional expert professor Pierre De Vos: “It will strengthen the increasingly widely held perception that senior NPA leaders are appointed because of their political loyalty to the dominant faction inside the ANC (and especially to President Jacob Zuma and his campaign to stay out of prison) and not because of their personal integrity, independent attitude and ability to act without fear, favour or prejudice (as required by the Constitution)”. The charges against Breytenbach related to her alleged failure to act impartially when she was investigating the Kumba Iron Ore, Arcelor Mittal SA, Sishen and Imperial Crown Trading mining rights issue but was also widely interpreted as motivated by the her insistence on pursuing several other Jacob Zuma allies including suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and Nomgcobo Jiba, the person Jacob Zuma has appointed acting head of the NPA.

So what?

Ever since the suspension of Vusi Pikoli, the National Director of Public Prosecutions by Thabo Mbeki in 2007 (probably because Pikoli was pursuing then Mbeki ally Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi on corruption charges) and then his firing by Kgalema Mothlanthe (probably because Pikoli was pursuing corruption charges against newly elected ANC president Jacob Zuma) the National Prosecuting Authority has been in a precipitous state of decline. The institution has been used increasingly as an instrument to favour or retard various factional interests in the ruling alliance and with this has come a predictable decline in its effectiveness. The functioning of the prosecutorial authority is intimately tied up with the functioning of the South African constitution and can become a determining factor in investment decisions. The decline of the NPA should be seen as a not insignificant deterrent to investment in the country.

Bits and pieces

  • Num officials faked stop orders to hide the degree to which it has lost ground to Amcu according to reports in City Press business section. Eight of Num’s full-time shop stewards have been ‘expelled’ by Lonmin due to alleged fraud around union membership. “Full-time shop stewards are employees of the company who do only union work, but receive a salary – usually equivalent to relatively high grade jobs.” Num has until July 15 to regain members or lose its offices at the mine. According to the report the “offices have long doubled as the branch offices of the ANC” – as is the case with the hundreds of Num offices across the country. “Amcu represents roughly 74% of the 18 000 employees and 9 000 contractors at Lonmin” – City Press.
  • Most of the weeklies ran stories about talk show host Dali Tambo’s People of the South television programme due to be broadcast in two halves on state broadcaster SABC last night and Sunday next week.  The show is an intimate and warm interview with Robert Mugabe at home with his family.
  • “Gaddafi billions found in SA” was the lead story in the Sunday Times but over to the right on the front page was the bigger surprise: “It’s official: Pule lied about lover.” The Sunday Times claims it has seen documents that prove Dina Pule, Minister of Communications, has repeatedly lied about her relationship with businessman Phosane Mngqibisa. Failed telecommunications policy is a structural constraint to growth in the country and Pule, who is being investigated by a parliamentary ethics committee about whether she directed business towards Mngqibisa, has proved to be part of the problem. Her removal will come as a welcome relief, but policy uncertainty in the sector is a bigger problem than just this minister.
  • The Sunday Times argues that Cyril Ramaphosa is going to be used to “win support from the middle class and professionals in next year’s election”, while Jacob Zuma “will still be the face of the campaign in working-class communities” – (duh). The weekly has an interesting quote from an ANC leader supporting this assertion: “(w)e realised that the majority of our people love the president, but there are also these negative perceptions about him. What we identified was the issue of his associations, controversies about his children and family using their name to get business and the millions spent in Nkandla … So we will make sure that the DP (Ramaphosa) is visible in campaigns” (my emphasis added). All parties are intensively polling opinions in the electorate in the lead-up to elections and it is refreshing to hear ruling party leaders speak about the obstacles they face with such candour.
  • The Sunday Times also interestingly reports that the national leadership of the ANC is likely to bypass the structures of the party in Gauteng to reach voters in 2014 because the provincial executive (PEC) of the ANC has “not accepted the Mangaung outcome”. This is code for the assertion that the Gauteng ANC does not support the presidency of Jacob Zuma, which certainly squares with the position of the ANC in that province prior to Mangaung.
I 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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,521 other followers

My twitter tweets

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,521 other followers