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Herewith some of my latest news updates.

(Just as an aside before I start: I couldn’t help but smile at Richard Poplak’s seriously over-the-top take on the Nkandla report in Daily Maverick this morning: “But Madonsela has certainly nailed Zuma to history’s grimiest post—he will be forever remembered as a thief, a fool, and a Zulu man who was incapable of managing the affairs of his kraal … Jacob Zuma will not escape his fate as one of this country’s more reprehensible figures. And Nkandla will be the crown he wears as he slithers into historical ignominy” … anyone who reads this column probably realises that I am not overly enamoured of Jacob Zuma as our president, but Richard seems to think he is a sort of Vlad the Impaler in leopard skins, which I think is a metaphor too far.

… and while I am making asides did I just hear Gwede Mantashe throw Riah Phiyega under a bus for the fire pool/swimming pool confusion in the Presidential mansion? So she is going to take the fall for Nkandla and Marikana? Shem, as they say on Twitter.)

… anyway:

  • South Africa’s Public Protector ruled that President Jacob Zuma improperly used state funds to upgrade his Nkandla homestead and “failed to act in protection of state resources”.
  • The Public Protector said Mr Zuma’s behaviour amounted to misconduct, but that she couldn’t conclude that the president had misled parliament. He will have to repay some of the funds.
  • The report is negative for the ANC and will cost it votes in the May general election.
  •  Trevor Manuel’s exit from parliament has not been quite as smooth and painless as it first appeared. He will end up as a public critic of the ANC, but not, as yet, in an opposition party.
  • A thickening seam of discontent and activism opposed to growing government intervention in the economy is beginning to reveal itself in the South African financial press.
Zuma deemed guilty of misconduct, but not of misleading parliament

After a 28-month investigation, South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced that President Jacob Zuma and his family had improperly benefited from upgrades to his private Nkandla home worth around ZAR 246mn. “Expenditure on Nkandla was excessive,” Ms Madonsela said and involved the “misappropriation of funds”.

Ms Madonsela said President Zuma knew of the scale of the Nkandla project and “failed to act in protection of state resources”, allowing extensive upgrades beyond security. She explicitly said Mr Zuma’s failure to protect the state’s interests during this saga amounted to “misconduct”, that his failure to protect state resources was a “violation” (of what we are not exactly sure yet) and that his conduct had been inconsistent with the constitution. However, she said that he did not wilfully mislead parliament on the matter. That would have been a criminal offence.

Mr Zuma will now have to respond to these findings to parliament within 14 days and repay some of the misappropriated funds. It doesn’t look like anyone will go to prison or be forced to resign and the actual practicalities of the crisis are not desperately serious for the ANC and President Zuma (or rather not in a new way … they were already quite serious in terms of general respect for the integrity of the President.)

So what?

Ms Madonsela recently described the function of the Public Protector as being to “curb excesses in the exercise of state power and control over state resources”. However, there is some confusion as to the status of her rulings and consequent recommendations to the president for remedial action.

Getting President Zuma to take remedial action against himself for the misuse of public money would seem like something of a non-starter. Already, ex-police chief Bheki Cele, former minister Dina Pule and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – all of whom had adverse findings against them by Ms Madonsela – have found their way onto the ANC’s election list.

Still, this is very much a negative for the African National Congress (ANC) – even more so than the general public expected, though probably not more than the ANC expected. The party knew the report was going to be damaging and has been stiffening its spine for some time, weighing up the costs of attacking Ms Madonsela – an illegal act – or taking it on the chin.

The party will lose votes as a result of this, but we think it was losing votes anyway because of Mr Zuma’s general probity (please see our most recent rough guide overleaf for an idea of how we think support is shaping up). Mr Zuma’s position in the ANC will be weakened (but remember he is strong in the sense that he controls the majority of powerful ANC structures).

Still, the brand value of the ANC is being damaged and this is likely to trigger a self-correcting mechanism. While the changes are still 40-60 against, we think a rescue mission by the party’s ‘old guard’ is now more likely  and that it might successfully mange to shift Mr Zuma aside by around 2016 (a sufficiently strong group just needs to emerge that can cut him a deal with proper guarantees). Obviously the worse the ANC does at the polls, the more the under performance is ascribed to the character and probity of the president … the more likely it is that such a group emerges and coheres to a degree that it is able to offer any enforceable guarantees.

votelates

Trevor Manuel: Concealed weapons

Last week, warm tributes were paid to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel as he took his leave of parliament and it appeared that his sometimes fractious relationship with his party and cabinet colleagues would, for once, be smoothed over. However, in a high-profile Sunday Times interview, he proceeded to warn that “attacks on public bodies, such as the Public Protector and the courts, would weaken these institutions — and that democracy would then battle to survive”. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mathanshe responded sharply to Mr Manuel, saying: “We do not attack the public Protector, but criticise her where we feel we should … Trevor refuses to participate in the activities of the ANC NEC, and if you refuse such, you want to be a free agent.”

So what?

Trevor Manuel has been something of a ‘market darling’ and (according to himself and in his own words) the rand “fell out of bed” when the news broke that he had resigned after Thabo Mbeki had been recalled on 22 September 2008 (The Zuma Years, Richard Calland, August 2013, Zebra Press … read it, it really is quite good!!). There is no love lost between the country’s longest-serving finance minister and architect of the National Development Plan (NDP) and the incumbent leadership of his party.

In a coded farewell speech in parliament, he quoted a seemingly benign passage from a work by historian Tony Judt: “For thirty years, we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.” There were knowing nods all around, but Mr Manuel usefully forgot to mention the title of the book he was quoting, Ill Fares the Land. We expect Mr Manuel to emerge as a critic of the ANC in its present form, although he is unlikely to join any of the existing opposition parties.

Mr Manuel was also interviewed by the Business Times, in which he criticised the short-sighted way in which some trade unions were approaching negotiations, saying it has sparked a “race to the bottom”. He accused National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) General Secretary Irvin Jim, who has constantly attacked the NDP, of “speaking a lot of rubbish”.

Mining companies told to “get off their knees” and stop sucking up to government

Tension in the mining sector under the twin pressures of serious labour instability and increasing government regulatory pressure is causing unusual fractures and pressures, according to Business Day and the Sunday Times, provoking something of a growing campaign of activism in some sectors of the ‘private-sector intelligentsia’, for want of a better term. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the tension (it gets complicated, but stick with it):

  • Eight weeks ago, a respected Chamber of Mines negotiator in the platinum strike (now in its eighth week), Elize Strydom, said Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) mediators in negotiations between employers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) had ”showed an absolute lack of economic acumen” by suggesting companies meet the AMCU’s wage demands “half way”. The mediators had suggested they accept a rise of 25-30% for entry-level miners with basic pay of ZAR 5,700 (the AMCU had demanded ZAR 12,500 a month, a rise of 120%, the companies had offered 8.5%).
  • Ms Strydom (and the Chamber) were immediately attacked by the CCMA and accused of ‘‘white-anting” the mediation process. The CCMA insisted the Chamber either apologise or endorse Ms Strydom’s comments. If the Chamber did endorse Ms Strydom, in the words of the CCMA, it would indicate that the Chamber clearly had “no faith in the institution that is made available by the state and which is accepted by all social partners in other economic sectors”.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce says in his Thick End of the Wedge column this week: “But the mines did nothing. Until, that is, they flung themselves into the arms of the state and savaged Strydom for what she had said … A depressing scene.” Mr Bruce’s comments, bitterly critical of the Chamber and the mining firms, underpin Rob Rose’s column in the Sunday Times, in which he says: “So, when some maverick breaks the conspiracy of silence, it’s no surprise that there’s a hullabaloo of outrage. Spin doctors reel blindly … the gutless Chamber of Mines, and the even more enfeebled legion of platinum CEOs [fail to take a stand]. Now, this is why this issue is so important: the platinum industry is on a precipice. Workers have been on strike since January 23 and the mines have lost billions in revenue and even more in terms of international investment goodwill.”
  • Also in the Sunday Times, a report on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendment bill says “the ANC rushed through controversial changes … that opposition parties feel will create further uncertainty in the mining sector.” The article notes that the new regulations will give government the right to a free stake of up to 20% in any new oil and gas projects, with a right to acquire the rest at an “agreed price”. The story quotes the Democratic Alliance’s James Lorimer as saying that only “cronies, comrades and cousins” would benefit from the bill, which he said would “severely damage” the industry. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said critics were resisting change and transformation, “representing white minority interests” and “wanting to sell the country’s natural resources to the highest foreign bidder”.

So what?

The Chamber of Mines said that “while further work is required on developing the regulations that will help give effect to the MPRDA Amendment Act, the chamber is firmly of the view that through this problem solving process, greater regulatory certainty is emerging for the mining sector.” Obviously, for the Chamber and the companies engaged in negotiating the details of legislation and regulation with government, or engaged in the constitutionally created structures of the labour market, there is no upside in attacking the government or the institutional framework. Equally obviously, key sections of the financial press disagree and are essentially sounding a call to arms and arguing that the growing institutional, regulatory and legislative hostility to the private sector is becoming a crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

Numsa confirms it will launch socialist party

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

UDM says beware of vote rigging

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

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

So what?

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

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

Mining policy pushback – in the Business Day anyway

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

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

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

The Numsa exit from the alliance is a natural consequence of what appears to me to be a ‘Maggie Thatcher moment’ in South African politics.

(This is a loose characterisation and it purely means that I believe there is evidence that government is taking a much harder line with the union movement and is backing the private sector to do the same. As you will see in the final slide I do not think it is strictly accurate to define this moment as Thatcherite, but I do believe the metaphor has some value i.e. that Cosatu is collapsing because the ANC under Zuma is forcing it to come into line.)

Below is an extract from a piece of my weekly news commentary published just after SONA 2014 … and below that are three slides from a presentation I delivered in November last year – thanks to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities, as always, for allowing me to republish here.

Amplats to sue Amcu for strike related damages – various news reports (17/02/2014)

Several news outlets reported on Sunday that Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) will sue the Association of Mining and Construction Union for R591m. “The company seeks payment of damages caused by Amcu’s failures to adhere to the law, damage to property, increased costs to pay protection services staff overtime, and loss of production because non-striking workers were prevented from working” – Amplats statement quoted in the Sunday Times 16/02/2014.

So what?

I think a combination of factors are making it probable that the major platinum companies will use this strike to attempt to reset the balance of power between the companies and labour in the sector. The legal action by Amplats is probably part of such a generally agreed strategy by companies in the sector.

My reasoning includes the following supporting conjectures:

  • Management will not want to again make the mistakes in made in 2012. The damage suffered by the platinum companies during that year – when unions appeared to push their advantage with little resistance or any coherent counterstrategy from management – led, in part, to the state clumsily stepping in, with Marikana the centrepiece of the gruesome consequences.
  • (According to various media, for example the Business Day) the platinum market is in oversupply, the companies are cash flush and the rand is weak – an ideal combination of conditions that would assist the companies ‘digging in’ and waiting for Amcu to break.
  •  It is increasingly clear that the union resources are stretched to the limit and strikers are carrying high levels of unsecured debt which makes both strikers and their union unable to last more than one payday

I am suggesting that the companies have tacit government support in taking a hard line with the strike. Amcu is, after all, the union that displaced key ANC ally Num and any strategy to break Amcu would probably be tacitly supported by the ruling party (although this is not something the ANC could admit to.)

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis put it best when he said Amplats’s action would restore the balance of power and send out a message that unreasonable pay demands and irresponsible union action would not be tolerated. He summarised Amplats’ intention as to “bankrupt Amcu and get rid of this militant and irresponsible union once and for all; or to send out a strong message to Amcu and all other trade unions that Amplats has had enough of union bullying; or to merely place Amcu under huge pressure to call off the strike and accept the final offer made by the companies.”

What is clear to me, is Amplats would only be behaving in the vigorous and hard-line manner if it has been given the tacit support of government. Zuma’s SONA2014 statement that “We cannot have industrial conflict that destroys the economy” is the visible spine of a deep seam of just such support.

… and then as part of the background that leads me to those conclusions, 3 slides from a presentation entitled “The Curate’s Egg” from November last year:

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

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 Securities South Africa (Pty) Ltd.

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