You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2013.

The appropriate comparison for J Arthur Brown’s visit to Khayelitsha yesterday is Jacob Zuma’s visit to Eldorado Park a few weeks ago – the president’s vist conducted ostensibly to free that neighborhood from the tyranny of crystal meth and tik.

Watching the visuals on eNCA (catch those here) of the white fraudster’s visit to the Cape township yesterday was surreal. Brown, louche, handsome and relaxed in tatty jeans and gelled hair being warmly welcomed by the community meeting; the elderly African audience in their Sunday best, anxious to please, respectful and sitting up straight in their seats. Brown lounging like a  rock star being interviewed by Rolling Stone.

Afterwards outside: the crowd greeting him with Amandla!  – everyone taking a turn to hug their last hope for the return of the money, the man who the state accused of stealing it in the first place.

Zuma’s trip to Eldorado Park is the same species of manipulation. It was supposedly prompted by an eloquent request by resident Dereleen James describing her desperate efforts to get her 17-year-old son off crystal meth. See that moving letter here.

Both these incidents have the classic elements of ‘big man’ politics and the worst features of populism.

What you do is take an issue that absolutely no-one could disagree with and then you march in as the good and heroic saviour. Even those who suspect your motivations are forced into silence. The poverty-stricken victims need all the help they can get, even if it is coming from people who are motivated by the need to repair their public image.

I don’t buy that, in exactly the same way as I don’t buy it when repressive governments argue that the internet needs censoring because of child pornography.

Anyone who argues against the populist measures is immediately cast as the villain: so what, are you in favour of drugs, child pornography and poverty? You are prepared to let these victims suffer just to satisfy some political principle of your own?

Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma and Winnie Mandela had one thing in common. They understood perfectly that you shouldn’t waste your time with actually solving the housing crisis, poverty, drug addiction (choose your perfect and sanctified issue.) All you need to do is go into the impoverished area and give someone a house. Do it with fanfare and praise singers. The community will come out, awed at your power and generosity, clear that you are the source of the goodies that make life possible, full of hope that their turn might come some time soon.

So maybe J Arthur Brown is going to stump up a few million rand, perhaps set up a fund for the people who have been robbed. Surely that is a good thing?

No, it’s not if it means that pressure is relieved on the more pervasive looting of pension and investment funds by people like J Arthur Brown.

How can we be anything but horrified when the fox volunteers to police the hen-house? Not for some vague political principal, but because our desire to save one chicken has endangered them all.

A few years ago it would have been the SACP and the ANC making these arguments and far more eloquently than I have here (catch an excellent interview with Jeremy Cronin several years ago doing precisely that  – push through till he gets to the ‘big man’ and populism bit, it will be worth your while).  Of the many things I regret about the present, the loss of that perspective from our politics is the one I feel most keenly.

Zuma’s visit to Eldorado Park is indistinguishable, in its deeper architectural structure, from J Arthur Brown’s visit to Khayelitsha. In both cases there will be immediate changes to local people’s lives, but changes that purely result in a displacement of the problems and temporary relief.  Like the distribution of food parcels by politicians just before elections the temporary relief provided the hungry does not balance the harm done the society by the successful hoodwinking of the electorate by the ‘big man’.

Preface 

I wrote what follows in July 1990 immediately after returning from a two week trip to Moscow. I was part of a group with the now sadly departed Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa). The original was published in Democracy In Action, the institute’s monthly newsletter. I had looked for a copy for years and Paul Graham the last executive director of  Idasa, and a man for whom I have the highest regard, went to considerable trouble to find the article for me as he was closing up shop. I am republishing it here exactly as it originally appeared, although I have to sit on my hands to stop myself stripping out much of the sentiment and youthful taking-of-oneself-too-seriously – and thereby cutting two thirds of the length. (I would also quite like not to admit to some of the things I once believed which I admit to in the article … and I would love to add a bit of irony … but it is all too late for that now.)

Why am I bothering – I am not unaware that this was not exactly seminal?  No special reason, except my desire that it form ‘part of the record’. I wanted it “out there” in the electronic universe to remind myself of the precise moment I stopped being a confused socialist and carried on with being just confused, an altogether less satisfying state than I had experienced previously. It was  bitter-sweet for me, this moment, and I have never entirely resolved the conflicted feelings that it evokes in me. I don’t promise that what follows will be madly interesting to anyone but myself and perhaps some others directly involved in the events I describe. So, if for no other reasons than the much vaunted record, complete and unexpurgated, here is:

Ten days that shook my world

Standing on the Leningradsky Prospect – the “straight way” to Leningrad – just outside Moscow I was filled with an unhappy mixture of dismay and despair.

I had reached an unbearably poignant shrine. In heroic proportions and cut deep into huge blocks of concrete was the visage of the Soviet version of the Unknown Soldier. The young interpreter translated the script alongside that  haunting face in hushed tones. “It says that, ‘the defenders of Moscow defend here forever’. Here they fought an important battle in the Great Patriotic War. Many people died. But for us this is very sad.”

Twenty million Soviet citizens died in that war. more than all the other deaths put together. The German army failed to take Moscow or Leningrad and eventually broke its back on a bitterly defended Stalingrad and the even more bitter Soviet winter.

Standing at that memorial I felt dismay at the enormity of suffering the people of this country had experienced in the last 100 years. I felt despair because by that stage of the trip I already sensed than another tragedy was befalling this oft punished country.

How do  you record a credible impression of a country with 290  million inhabitant and more mutually unintelligible languages than anywhere else in the world after a brief two weeks spent in one city – albeit Moscow?

The answer is you probably can’t.

It was sunny mid-June and I was part of an Idasa delegation of “young researchers” on a fact-finding mission hosted by a group called the Committee of Youth Organisations. For me personally the visit was of particular importance.

The Soviet Union was the land of milk and honey for many of us who grew up politically in the student movement in the late 70s and early 80s. This was the flagship of a growing fleet that would rid our world of the uncaring and greedy imperative of profiteering capitalism and the misery it had brought our country.

We could quote chapter and verse of statistics that demonstrated the availability of basic goods and services to all Soviet people. We could parade the achievements of Eastern bloc socialism – in the production of iron and steel, in the eradication of illiteracy, in culture, the arts and in sports.

In response to perestroika and glasnost we had all reformulated our ideas and I wanted to discover two things: the soul of the Soviet people and  whether the red flag was still flying. We were not able to answer any of these questions conclusively and were left with a series of often unconnected impressions.

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

We sat in a meeting with the editor of the Moscow Communist Youth Organisation (Komsomol) daily newspaper. The paper has a subscriber list of one and a half million and is delivered daily. This man was a political appointee yet he harangued us for over an hour about the evils and absolute unworkability of socialism.

We didn’t understand. Here was a powerful and influential communist, picking up a glass on the table and asking, “Who does this belong to? To the state, or the people, or some vague body? I don’t care about this glass,” and he made as if to throw it out of the window.

In an intense and growing fury he took a Parker pen from the inside pocket of his coat. “This is my pen! If this man (pointing at his second in command) breaks this pen, I will beat him,” he said, shaking his fist angrily.

Reaching some kind of climax, the editor rose to his feet and shouted pointing out of the window at the inevitable queue at a shop across the road: “Those people are queuing for children’s slippers. This is not how people should live! This is not even how animals should live!”

The sentiments behind these ragings were expressed by everyone we met – more cautiously only by the most senior members of the Communist Party.

The economy has clearly failed to meet the requirements of the population and the list of reasons they give reads like a tirade from the New Right.

Here is a selection of rough quotes as I jotted them down in my notebook or remember them now:

“The authoritarian, bureaucratic, administrative command system has created impossibly skewed production priorities.”

“Why work hard, or with any care and attention to detail if you are going to get your 300 roubles a month no matter what and anyway, you are not going to be able to buy anything with it? We have created workers who don’t know how to work.”

“Goods are expensive and if they are made here they are of inferior quality. It is very difficult to get imported goods and usually these are impossibly expensive.”

“I have lived here all my life. Now it is worse than anyone can remember. There are just no goods in the shops and for the first time we are really worried about hunger.”

Almost without exception the people we spoke to blamed socialism for their ills. When those of us with deep philosophical and political roots in the South African socialist movement protested that it wasn’t socialism per se that was the problem, but rather the errors committed in the building of the society and economy of the Soviet Union specifically, we were laughed out of court.

“It is the ideas themselves. 1917 was a disaster for us. We need the market economy,” was the refrain we heard time and again.

There seems no doubt that there is a developing  consensus amongst the intelligentsia in Moscow at any rate, that the “free market” is the panacea to many of their ills. It would have been impossible, and extremely presumptuous of us to lecture them on the evils of rampant capitalism. They want it and they want it now.

When Germany and Japan start buying up state enterprises for a pittance and fill the shops with goods that only a few can afford; when unemployment and lack of housing becomes a problem for the previously protected underclass and when access to a whole lot of goods ans services becomes determined by income, they may change their minds, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

The citizens of Moscow (a relatively wealthy city) are struggling, increasingly despairingly, to survive. At first I was tempted to argue that they are better off than the unemployed in the First World, but it just doesn’t appear to be true, especially as far as countries with social welfare systems are concerned.

The problem, of course, is that the capitalism that will be built in the Soviet Union will be a mean and half-starved animal.

The Soviet people look at the highly developed capitalist economies of the West for a vision of their own future. The truth is that they can expect only the vicious and exploitative versions of the system that exist on the periphery in the Third World.  The creation of that system is going to be extremely painful.

The other element of the unfolding drama in the Soviet Union is the collapse of the political entity itself.

The republics are finally starting to be flung off the edges of the vortex of rapid political change. Long repressed nationalism, often highly chauvinistic, is emerging everywhere and Gorbachev is finding it almost impossible to hold the show on the road.

The dark spectre of the Soviet Union’s collapse into 15 disgruntled, warring, potentially economically unviable Third World states with terrifying military resources at their disposal is starting to haunt the wold.

And what about the Russian people?

We were all astounded at the depth of education and cultural and philosophical literacy in the wide cross-section of people we met. A deep abhorrence of war and commitment to peaceful change was the characteristic feature. In response to the question “what do you want, or see as an alternative?”, the most common phrase was, “respect for universal human values.”.

We asked many young people if they were proud of any of their national achievements – the beautiful, cheap and efficient Moscow underground, the low price and ready availability of books and records and the level of literacy and education.

We were told (variously): “The Soviet Union is not a country, we have no national achievements”; “how can we be proud if it takes all our effort and time just to buy a loaf of bread in a shop”.

Almost every young person we met had a burning desire to leave the country. The most popular movie on the circuit is a “documentary” comparison of life in the Soviet Union versus life in the West.

Apparently this films looks at the worst of Soviet life compared to the best in the West. It sounds like the worst kind of anti-communist, American ultra-right chauvinism –  except it was made by a Soviet film producer. What is more, the public swallow every last detail in an orgy of masochistic self-hatred.

Media freedom

One thing we found interesting and encouraging was freedom and vibrancy of the media.

Organised political opposition to the Communist Party is weak (outside of the national movements in the republics) and many of the new parties have no real experience at mobilising the population. However, the press and television are filled with debate and exploration of new ideas and harsh examinations of social problems ranging from alcoholism through to child abuse.

By the end of the 10 days, the six of us were punch-drunk and exhausted. We spoke together for hours trying, unsuccessfully, to draw out the essence of the experience. We all had the sense of being in an important place at an important time. This was the exact point where a grand enterprise had come off the rails.

The resounding shock waves of that catastrophe have changed the whole world, not least of all our own country. We struggled with the enormity of it and the sense of hopelessness we were left with.

As the last day of the visit dawned, I spoke to a wise and gentle man about my confusion and disappointment. He said: “Yes, this is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but you are wrong to say our people are hopeless or despairing. They have spirit and humanity. We will win through in some way.”

(I was accompanied on that trip by Ian Liebenberg, Hermien Kotze, Zorah Ebrahim, Khehla Shubane and Mark Swilling – and I wish them well wherever they may be.)

Herewith is an extract from my weekly news summary/analysis of what I thought was important in the main weeklies.

Freedom Day, April 27 – nineteen years on from the first democratic election … a good story by-and-large

City Press has a useful op-ed page by the always excellent Ferial Haffajee (who is also the editor) based on the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) handbook 2012. Interestingly, while SAIRR has become an ever stronger critic of the ANC, CEO Frans Cronje acknowledges that “the last 20 years have seen a revolutionary improvement for all South Africans” – a fact that is apparent from the graphic representations (each one manually scanned from the City Press … so apologies for the quality) below.

Graph above – number of people living on less than $2 a day

Graph above – number of people living on less than $2 a day

Graph above – the (not so gradual) roll-back of Bantu Education – the number of Blacks passing matric grows more in response to changing economic requirement of the labour force.

Graph above – the (not so gradual) roll-back of Bantu Education – the number of Blacks passing matric grows more in response to changing economic requirement of the labour force.

Graph above – enrolment in tertiary education – significant changes but a long way to go. Notice the growth in African share.

Graph above – enrolment in tertiary education – significant changes but a long way to go. Notice the growth in African share.

Graph above shows wealth distribution patterns – everyone getting wealthier, although demographics have a strong (even reinforced) apartheid structure

Graph above – the middle class has grown (as far as I can make out from the poorly phrased explanation, this is LSMs 1-10 and how they have fared (grown or shrunk) since 1994 – indicating growth of middle class: bars six and seven.

Graph above – the middle class has grown (as far as I can make out from the explanation, this is LSMs 1-10 and how they have fared (grown or shrunk) since 1994 – indicating growth of middle class: bars six and seven.

Graph above: the demographics of wealth ownership improve as everyone gets richer – whites still streets ahead in the stakes and foreign ownership is an interesting outlier.

Graph above: the demographics of wealth ownership improve as everyone gets richer – whites still streets ahead in the stakes and foreign ownership is an interesting outlier.

So what

Worries about an Arab spring, and social unrest are often based on the assumption of intractable negative social trends. Haffajee, a strong social and political critic of government herself, says: “Over the years of covering South Africa’s freedom, I’ve come to learn this about us: We don’t count our lucky stars often enough, nor do we give ourselves credit for the things we do well. Why this is, I am not sure. But the answer probably lies inherent in the way power was peacefully transferred, but not decisively won.” These graphs run counter to popular wisdom in a number of ways, perhaps the most important one to point out for domestic consumption is that the idea that whites are the new oppressed, and the losers in the last 19 years (as argued in powerful sections of the media and Solidarity trade union, for example) is obviously, even elaborately, wrong.

Businesses unanimous in condemning draft Licensing of Business Bill

A proposed bill will force small businesses and traders to register with, and be licenced by, local councils and municipalities (“every greengrocer, car dealer, pharmacy, and livestock seller … it includes every service provider, from lawyers to hospitals and hotels, car parks, airports, freight carriers and advertising agencies” – Free Market Foundation quoted in Business Report, the Sunday Independent’s business section). The report links the bill to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor that shows SA entrepreneurship levels to be the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.

So what?

The entrepreneurship survey is deeply disturbing – although not wholly surprising and we agree with Business Unity South Africa when it says (as quoted in the same story) that the bill “will … retard the growth and development of SMEs and further harm a sector which is presently struggling with a high business failure rate.” However, we understand the real target of the Department of Trade and Industry which is floating the legislation is to restrict illegal hawking, particularly of the flood of cheap, illegally imported manufactured goods. Legislation often has unintended consequences, which is the reasons there is extensive public consultation before laws are placed on the statue books. The DTI’s instincts are to fiddle in the economy, but its intention here is undoubtedly correct, it just needs to find the best mechanism.

Wage bargaining and the strikes season is upon us

The City Press business section says “major wage talks scheduled for the mining, motor manufacturing and chemical industries haven’t even begun properly.”

“A full blown teachers’ strike is now on the cards after teachers’ union Sadtu last week presented President Jacob Zuma with a 21-page mix of labour and political demands” – City Press (those demands include the removal of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her director-general Bobby Soobrayan.

The Motor Industry Bargaining Council (MIBC), where Numsa dominates sets wages for 160 000 workers in the sector and this year will open with a demand for a 20% across-the-board increase, an industry wide minimum of R6000.00 a month and a ban on labour brokers – later this week.

The Chemical Industry also starts next week (sectors involved are “fast moving consumer goods, glass, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals” – City Press.)

The most widely anticipated talks are those coming up in the Chamber of Mines for the gold mining industry (and concurrently in the coal sector) – the first since illegal strikes rearranged the labour landscape and ushered in a plethora of worker committees refusing to work through unions. “The handsome increases some of the mining strikes won last year, by bypassing the formal system, will exercise the minds of everyone at the table …” City Press.

The article also says “the Chamber of Mines is meeting with Amcu again this week to try and arrange its place in the forum … where Amcu will have to share Num’s mandate for the populous lower bands.”

“The plan for a new platinum forum echoing the gold and coal forums at the chamber has not made any progress. This while mining companies will see their standing wage agreements expire this year” – City Press.

So what?

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. Strike action during these times can appear to cascade through the economy and we need to be clear what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘abnormal’.  The platinum and agriculture strikes last year were abnormal and have, to an important degree, contributed to destabilising the system – by creating unrealistic base expectations and by encouraging workers to bargain outside of the unions and structures of the central bargaining system. This does lay the grounds for serious uncertainty this year. Adding to the tension is the apparent attempt of Zuma and his strategist and allies in Cosatu to get rid of popular Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. As we discuss below, this could contribute to serious disturbance in industrial relations this year – disturbances that are distinctly not part of the normal cycle.

The growing tension in the ruling alliance is putting Cosatu under intense strain

The Sunday Times says it has seen and analysed Cosatu’s schedule of rallies and official speakers for May 1 and argues: “May Day celebrations will once again expose the deep division in Cosatu” – a significant part of the tension concerns Num leaders refusing to address rallies in the Eastern Cape, an important labour sending area for platinum mines and likely strongholds of Amcu where Jacob Zuma’s Num allies are might to be embarrassed, heckled or driven from the stage.

City Press attempted to tote up the “for and against Vavi” unions indicating membership numbers – using figures drawn from the Cosatu 2012 national conference official ‘organisation report’- and it’s own insights into which groups of union leaders are Zuma allies/Vavi critics. It is not an extremely useful exercise because each union has for-and-against sections, with only Numsa and Num being large and significant unions with more clearly defined “for and against” positions. However the forces against Vavi appear to have the numbers if they need them, although it is not clear that this translates directly into votes in the forum that will make the decision.

Pro-Vavi

Membership Numbers

Anti-Vavi

Membership Numbers

Unclear

Membership Numbers

Numsa

291025

Ceppwawu

80658

CWU

18666

Fawu

126930

Num

310382

Sama

7758

Denosa

74

Nehawu

260738

Pawusa

17146

Popcru

149339

Sadnu

8655

Satawu

159626

Safpu

593

Sadtu

251276

Sasawu

67402

Sasbo

7074

Sactwu

85025

Total members

418029

 

820979

 

212319

So what?

This morning an opinion column written by this analyst exploring attempts by the Zuma allies to get rid of Zwelinzima Vavi will be published in the online newspaper The Daily Maverick. Here is an extract that contains the most salient “so what?” for financial markets:

 “Shafting Vavi could conceivably split Cosatu – and even lead to the formation of a new left or worker-based political party. Take Numsa, all the other trade unions and bits of trade unions that support Vavi and add the individuals and organisations Vavi has been accused of flirting with (in the National Anti-Corruption Forum and earlier in the Civil Society Conference – October 27 2010) and dig out all those leftists long ago alienated from the ANC (think the brilliant and creative Zackie Achmat and those connected to him); go wild and add Amcu and some not yet indiscernible political formation emerging around Amcu or even around Agang … and you have the grounds for a real and serious challenge to the ANC. At the very least shafting of Vavi might not equal clearing Cosatu of his influence. It might equal clearing the ruling alliance of Cosatu … leaving Zuma Incorporated clinging to a fading Num and a few cronies.… it is a risky game. One of the by-products could be another catastrophic year on the industrial relations front. If Cosatu splits, it won’t be a neat division between different unions … the fault lines will run through individual unions and the disturbances generated by the Amcu/Num contest could become a model for the whole economy.”

The SACP joins criticism of the National Planning Commission – final nails in Trevor Manuel’s coffin

To add to the general factional confusion in the Ruling Alliance, close Zuma allies, the SACP has published a discussion paper that has a “sharp, pointed and nuanced interrogation” of the NPC (which produced the much vaunted, in financial markets and by business, National Development Plan).  “We cannot have a free-floating NPC, with an apparent presidential endorsement and using the budget of the presidency” says the SACP discussion document.

So what?

Actually, to my surprise, I agree with the main SACP criticism: the plan “does not have a strong organic link into government and its diverse planning apparatuses and processes.” Without such links, the NDP was always going to be a fig-leaf covering up the paucity of any actually strategy for economic development in the Zuma administration. The SACP can’t hide the fact that what it mostly dislikes about the NPC or the NDP is business’ participation in the formulation of the ideas and that Cosatu is starting to come out ever more critical of the document. I expect the NDP to go the way of a myriad similar (although never quite as thoroughly and carefully wrought) such plans from South Africa’s recent past.

Bits and pieces

  • City Press spent a day in the DRC’s Eastern Region with the M23 guerrilla movement, meeting them in Bunagana on the Rwanda border. The UN is deploying a brigade as a result of UN resolution 2008, which accuses the M23 and other rebels of mass rape, murder sprees and of recruiting child soldiers. The M23 insisted to City Press that Khulubuse Zuma (a nephew of the president) won valuable oil concession on the shores of Lake Edward and in exchange Jacob Zuma has committed “elite troops and top-drawer fire power to the UN force to smash M23.” The M23 guerrilla movement is trying to play into South African politics by accusing Zuma – sounds like one group of wolves trying to accuse another to cover up their own predatory behaviour. I have seen no evidence to back the idea that the troops are being sent to protect the Zuma family’s interests.
  • The Dina Pule saga continues to become ever more deeply incomprehensible. City Press claims Dina Pule  has alleged that famous soccer club owner Jomo Sono is behind a smear campaign against her to attempt to blackmail her into awarding his (Sono’s) company a the multi-billion rand set-top-box decoder contract. Pule is due to appear before Parliaments ethics and member’s interests committee on Thursday or Friday and the sooner political clarity comes to the telecommunications sector, the better.
  • Regional leaders are expected to hold a summit soon to discuss Zimbabwe’s readiness to hold elections, amid warnings that time is running out to ensure the poll is free, fair and credible – Sunday Independent. Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s foreign policy adviser and a key member of his facilitation team in Zimbabwe confirmed that Zanu-PF had recently thrown up obstacles to ‘proper monitoring’ of the Zimbabwe negotiations. “But she said her team had persuaded Zanu-PF that as SADC was supervising negotiations, it had the right and obligation to attend whatever Jomic (Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee) meeting it chose to. Zanu-PF conceded the point” – Sunday Independent.
  • Senior managers at PetroSA have been accused in the Mail & Guardian of conspiring to loot billions from the national oil company. It is a big story, dense with details and looks extremely damaging to those who stand accused. I will be monitoring the implications.
I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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

Join 5,727 other followers

My twitter tweets

  • RT @nombonisogasa: 10. It is instructive that #PP wants SARB to protect 'value of currency', amongst other things. Economists could have a… 5 days ago
  • RT @nombonisogasa: 9. Naturally, there will be review of #PPs report, especially on SARB. Will be interesting to watch. 5 days ago
  • RT @nombonisogasa: 8. It is tempting to speculate why restructuring of SARB has been included in this report. I'll resist that. Expect SARB… 5 days ago
  • RT @nombonisogasa: 7. However, her recommendation on restructuring SARB falls in this school. Problem for her, SARB has constitutional inde… 5 days ago
  • RT @nombonisogasa: 6. This is an involved debate of many decades, supposedly taking on 'orthodox economics'. Now, #PP may or may not be awa… 5 days ago