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The previous post was headlined “The ANC’s surprising return to form” and it stayed as the face of this website throughout a week in which we were reminded of the nest of corruption our president emerged from.

… oh yes, and a week when the ANC in parliament passed the Protection of Information Bill – with sneaky abstentions from three of their MPs. (Gloria Borman actually abstained, Ben Turok walked out and Salam Abram said he would have abstained if he could have made it to the sitting.)

… and a lot else has gone wrong such that it is difficult to even pierce the gloom.

Many of these issues have been done to death, but briefly on Mac Maharaj:

The Mail&Guardian weekly newspaper and the Sunday Times (and now City Press) revealed different pieces of evidence that appear to prove that French arms company Thales channeled money to Mac Maharaj, then Minister of Transport (also, crucially, architect of Zuma’s rise and key strategist behind Zuma government) a few months before Thales was awarded a credit card licence tender (worth about R265 million) by Maharaj’s department in 1996.

The more revealing points are that the alleged middleman, Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for, amongst other things, securing a bribe from Thales for Jacob Zuma’s protection in the arms deal. Thales country manager Alain Thetard allegedly signed or originated both the agreement that channeled money to Maharaj through his wife Zarina as well as the encrypted fax spelling out the payment for Zuma and the protections and advocacy those payments were for.

The issue is Zuma only avoided prosecution for corruption and racketeering because it was shown that there was political meddling in the prosecution – not because there was not a prima facie case for him to answer (his financial advisor went to prison for securing the bribe for his boss … you don’t get more prima facie than that!)

The leaking of the evidence is undoubtedly linked to the conflict between Zuma and the faction of which Julius Malema is a part. In fact the Youth League has made it clear that it plans to raise issues associated with Zuma’s sexual conduct as well as the fact that his (Zuma’s) friends and family have benefited financially (and overwhelmingly) from his presidency. Some of Malema’s key backers were insiders to the arms deal scandal and it would have been an easy matter for evidence against Mac and Zuma to emerge from some of those quarters.

At the very least the accusation (and reminder) that the Zuma presidency is deeply tainted by this history will hurt his  re-election bid at Mangaung.

… while the ANC itches to get more fingers on the economy

Late last week it emerged that there are proposals to tax ‘unbeneficiated’ mineral exports and to force the South African fund management industry to own a specific amount of government and SOE bonds in ‘draft of draft’ reports from the ANC Economic Transformation Committee – that were due to be discussed by the ANC NEC this weekend.

Both Bloomberg and Reuters have got hold of these, but the ‘final drafts’ take a less prescriptive approach, according to committee chair and key ANC economic policy strategist (and deputy minister Economic Development) Enoch Godongwana.

The ANC aches to get its hands on the IDC’s Public Investment Corporation’s investment power – especially as assets under management (mostly public sector pensions) topped the 1 trillion Rand mark in March.

The prescribed assets idea and strategies to force beneficiation – all in the service of the jobs drive – have been on the fringes of government thinking for years and are flirted with in much of the motivation that led to the NGP.

I don’t think these proposals will ever be legislated in this form.

A pre-Mangaung policy conference (in May according to the Business Day and June according to Bloomberg/Reuters) will make recommendations but the decision will only be made in December 2012.

The ‘nationalisation of mines’ draft proposal was also expected to be delivered to the NEC this weekend. I haven’t seen it or read any reports about it, but I expect a shift in the tax regime, a tightening up of the Charter and a plan to strengthen the African Mining Exploration and Finance Company (AEMFC) – which is the much vaunted “state owned mining company”. Together these fall well short of the ANCYL nationalisation proposals, but still weaken the investment case for the industry as a whole.

(Note, that these ideas proposed by think-tanks within the ruling party are essentially grappling with ways to make the economy more supportive of the transformation project. The problem, though, is one of trust. Giving this ANC is led by the kind of people named in the first few paragraphs of this post, more control over central aspects of our lives feels stupid. I just don’t trust them any more.)

… meanwhile

… Cabinet approved the publication of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act Amendment Bill that plans to fine companies up to 10% of revenues for ‘fronting’- and allows for companies to lose points on one part of the balanced scorecard for failure to achieve targets on another.

This is the first major attempt to give B-BBEE serious teeth (outside of mining licensing where the legislative and regulatory teeth are already pretty sharp.)

My own feeling is that resources for ‘deracialising’ the SA economy are limited; cheating is a problem, but the fact that the process is too often indistinguishable from a bribe of the political class is the bigger failing the new amendments ignore.

There’s my happy little corrective for an early Monday morning.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will have noticed two things.

The first is that the number of posts have tailed off. This is largely because my time has been taken up with paid work and the website has slipped down the list of priorities in the imperative to pay the bills.

I am, however, not yet ready to give up as so many of my friends who set up “free to air” websites in the last few years have done – usually because their work load became intolerable and the blog seemed to sit sulking on the edge of their consciousness and the bloggers became consumed with guilt and a sense of failure and eventually posted that final signoff: “its been fun –  so long and thanks for all the fish … and catch you in the commercial media ….” or whatever.

I set the blog up in the darkest depths of the Great Recession as a way of marketing myself … and the strategy has worked. I get a trickle of briefs to write, analyse or speak for corporations and businesses via the About and Professional Services links and this has been part of how I have scraped by after the cataclysm of 2008. If anything the global economy is looking scarier than ever … I am not going to drop the blog just as the as the world looks as if it might fall into an even more boneless heap than it did in 2008.

But the second reason I am going to hang onto this forum is that it gives me a discipline and space to work out my views on what is happening in the political realm. I can go back – as can anyone else who may be interested – through the hundreds of posts and get a record of my thinking and I use that constantly to refresh my mind as to where we are in the South African political wrangle … I just have to post more regularly again, and this I undertake to do.

So the blog remains in place for now, and I am grateful to the 150 or so people who check every day to see if I have said anything or who end up at the website through various search engines. One day you will be the CEO or running the company’s staff training programme or heading the strategic planning department (or you may already be one of those) and you will  know where to get hold of some excellently priced expertise … I look forward to your emails to in this regard.

Now onto what I have missed posting here in the last 2 weeks – all of which adds up to something of a shy and tentative spring – a bright new world peeping around the corner to see if it is okay to skip happily into the garden … and whatever other cutesy optimistic metaphors I can cook up, because I am extremely tired of the dark cynicism that has taken root deep in my – and probably your – mind.

Jacob Zuma cleans up his act

This is what I said about the Cabinet reshuffle, the suspension of Bheki Cele and the institution of the judicial commission into the Arms Deal.

In one broad swipe President Jacob Zuma has addressed several of the key corruption and maladministration problems that have beset his administration. He has fired Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka and suspended police commissioner General Bheki Cele and appointed a commission of inquiry into the General’s actions in fiddling leases for police buildings. In the same announcement Zuma named the members of the commission to investigate the ‘arms deal” scandal and named a senior Supreme Court of Appeals judge to head the inquiry. He has also made extensive minor changes to the cabinet – mostly through knock-on effects from the two ministerial changes.

The president has taken his good time about addressing some of these issues and we expect some of the early commentary to be less than generous – and to comb the details for evidence that Jacob Zuma has used the opportunity to marginalise enemies and reward friends – and generally restructure government in a way that favours his bid for a second term at Mangaung.

My own view is that Zuma has finally responded to a plethora of criticism and he has done so in a thoroughgoing way and in a manner that considerably strengthens the administrative capacity and probity of government. An expectation that such a significant reshuffle would not be influenced by the power struggles within the ANC would be naive, but on an initial reading I am cautiously optimistic.

Julius Malema gets his comeuppance

And this is what I said about the ANC Disciplinary hearing yesterday:

The African National Congress disciplinary committee (DC) is just finishing its announcement of findings and sentencing in relation to the ANC Youth League leadership.

Julius Malema has been found guilty (in his personal capacity) of provoking serious division in the ruling party and he has been suspended from the ANC and the Youth League for a period of five years – and several other sentences have been handed out to Youth League leaders including the 3 years suspension of Floyd Shivambu, the Youth League spokesperson.

This is obviously good for the ANC – for its image, for its internal coherence and for the reputation of its leadership. The loutish and grandiose behaviour of the ANC Youth League and the individual  leaders’  involvement in abuse of public sector finances and tendering process behind a façade of representing the interests of the poorest and most marginalised has deeply damaged the reputation and core values of the ANC.

Obviously much will depend on whether the leadership has the stomach – and spine – to follow the disciplinary process with a thoroughgoing implementation of the sentence throughout all forums of the organisation. We shouldn’t forget that important individuals and constituencies have backed Malema through this process – and as I write this Twitter is alive with ANC YL arrangements for emergency meetings to organise protests against these sentences this weekend. Will the sentence provoke a backlash, attempting to build opposition by portraying Malema as a victim? Obviously, but I think – and  hope – that the grave tones and thorough approach of the ANC Disciplinary Committee might presage a process of repair and renewal in the ruling party.

I expect the situation to be unsettled – and even threatening – for the next week, but my best call is that this sentence is likely to stabilise the debate within the ANC and in the leadership and policy discussion in the lead up to Mangaung in December 2012.

So that’s my two cents of this morning. There are reasons for optimism. Obviously Jacob Zuma has not suddenly been transformed into an epitome of probity and eloquence … but things are looking up and I think it is important to say so.

I am a political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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