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JULIUS

This is obviously a season of reflection for me.

Here is (another) post from the past, this one from November 4 2009.

For a long time Julius Malema is the Coming Man was the most viewed and most commented upon article here.  (Later this post about Chris Hani became ‘most viewed’ if not most commented upon.)

Remember, when I wrote this, Julius Malema was firmly ensconced as ANC Youth League president. It was a full 11 months before the defining showdown at the National General Council (11-13 October 2010) where Julius Malema was the sharp end of an attempt to force the ANC to adopt a position on the nationalisation of South African mines – read the exhausting, if not exhaustive, details  about that here.

From then on Malema’s relationship with the top leadership of the ANC deteriorated until he was suspended from the party in November 2011 and on the 4th of February 2012 the appeal committee of the ANC “announced that it found no reason to “vary” a decision of the disciplinary committee taken in 2011, but did find evidence in aggravation of circumstances, leading them to impose the harsher sentence of expulsion from the ANC” – Wikipedia

I think it is interesting to read 5 years later. Not that it was ‘true’ then or now. It’s just interesting. Given the last few days … also I think it (the article) implicitly relies too much on a ‘big man view of history’, gives too much prominence to the idea that ‘leaders’ make the crucial difference in how things turn out … something I will deal with some time in the future.

I am not endlessly going to repost old blogs. I am busy with a news update that should be out here during the next 24 hours.

Julius Malema is the Coming Man

PREPARE YOURSELF

Take a deep breath, put your shoulders back and look  through the frenzy.

Reading the Democratic Alliance’s Diane Kohler Barnard pour scorn on the “rotund” and “Idi Amin-like” Julius Malema I couldn’t help but think that she is leaving herself as few choices as J.M. Coetzee leaves his fictional characters.julius-malema

Julius Malema is a powerful contender for future ANC leadership – and is already a powerful politician. I think his rise to lead the ANC and possibly the country may be unstoppable. I fear that Barnard’s feisty and admirable rhetoric leaves her, and those she represents, no paths upon which she might ride her high horse back, when this is all over.

Barnard, recounting how Malema allegedly attempted to bully his way through a traffic violation with : “Don’t you know who I am?” arrogance, says:

[Julius Malema is] the man who believes there is one law for South African citizens, yet another law for him. He is the man who will slap a neighbour who has the temerity to ask that the music at his housewarming be turned down at 3 in the morning. He is the man who Julius Malemahas turned hate-speech into an art form […]

Barnard’s anger is palpable as she sneeringly reminds us that Malema has said he would fire Thabo Mbeki and any ANC parliamentarian “should he get the urge”

Malema’s ego and contempt for the law the rest of us must respect, is unparalleled […] Is this, to quote the President, someone you honestly believe is a ‘leader in the making – worthy of inheriting the ANC”?

Well, is he “a leader in the making”? Is he “worthy of inheriting the ANC?”

The answer to the first question is: “yes” – more about that below.

The answer to the second question is irrelevant. Could we agree what this historical artefact: “the ANC”  is; could we agree on what its characteristics and values are? Could anyone make this judgement call?

Frankly,  history can give a fig whether you or I think Julius Malema is worthy of inheriting the ANC – or, quite frankly, whether the ANC is worthy of  inheriting Julius Malema.

This is not about what you or I think or believe or hope for; it is also not about what Diane Kohler Barnard and the Democratic Alliance and those they represent hope for and hope to accomplish.

This is not, unfortunately,  about how things aught to be, or about what is fair and just in the moral universe.

This is about how things are; this is history as a raging torrent.

A de facto leader

Assuming “leader” is neither complimentary nor derogatory  – the word can be either or neither – it is clear that Malema more than fits the common sense meaning of the term.

  • Malema has been hot-housed as a boy in ANC training institutions and groomed for leadership after  joining the organisation at the point of its unbanning in about 1990;
  • He has led the two key feeder organisations, the Congress of South African Students and the ANC Youth League;
  • He has become the crucial port of call for politicians and individuals hoping to build support for any initiative that requires ANC support;
  • He personally played an important role in the rise to dominance of the faction that backed Zuma for president;
  • He is the only ANC politician – aside from Jacob Zuma – who has a significant and deliverable mass base; both numerous and militant;
  • His rhetoric (in my opinion) is closer to the views of the core constituency of the ANC than the publicly expressed views of any other South African politician;
  • His name/face recognition is almost unparalleled.

Julius Malema was born in the Northern Transvaal (Limpopo Province) and raised, like Jacob Zuma, by a single mother who worked as a domestic worker. This is the hard school of South African life and these kinds of  credentials are still highly valued in the ANC.

In the last few weeks Julius Malema has come over all statesmanlike:

  • He acknowledged Thabo Mbeki’s key leadership role – of the ANC and the country;
  • He declared the rector of the University of the Free State “one of our own” – thereby helping to defuse growing racial conflict on that campus.

This is deliberate marketing, evolving the brand [firebrand to Dollar Brand …] while the news media, opposition politics and certain dinner table discussions remain obsessed with each new Malema gaff or his latest confrontational tirade.

It is striking how similar the Julius Malema story is to the Jacob Zuma story.

The human need is to normalise the inevitable or the inescapable present. Three years ago media and dinner table sentiment about Jacob Zuma was almost identical to the sentiment held by the same groups of people about Julius Malema today.

The central dilemma in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

Is accepting – and trying to get your head around – the present and future leadership role of Julius Malema the moral equivalent of  the choices made by J.M Coetzee’s Lucy, the daughter of main character David Lurie in the 1999 novel Disgrace? Lucy (who is white) is raped and ends up seeking and receiving protection (and more) from Petrus (who is black) who is closely associated with those who raped her in the first place. Even if you have not read Disgrace I think you can understand the dilemma.

Is Julius Malema the Great Defiler – of our constitution, of the bill of rights and of our hopes for non-racialism?

No more than that previous rape accused, Jacob Zuma.

It sometimes feels that Julius Malema is deliberately teasing; upping the ante to cause his opponents to shriek ever louder and sound ever more shrill.

I have no idea whether he has the sense of humour or sense of the absurd to be deliberately inviting the kind of scorn he receives from those Dianne Kholer Barnard represents – and a smattering of those she hopes to represent.

But I have no doubt that it will be Julius Malema who laughs the longest.

In case anyone was wondering if I had disappeared into the ether: I have been seriously busy and have had no time to post on the blog.

If you were paying extra attention, you may have noticed that a post reviewing the nationalisation of mines debate appeared and disappeared a few weeks ago.

My mistake – it was bespoke for a month, and I jumped the gun. I am now able to publish it and you will find it below.

Meanwhile I am into my second reading of An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New” ANC by Fiona Forde. It is exceptionally good and I strongly recommend you go out and buy yourself a copy. I have begun a review which I will publish here during the course of the week.

But meanwhile, here is the month-old nationalisation update/review. My views haven’t changed much since I wrote it … and it is good to get it on the record … even if it is a little turgid and written in an overly formal tone.

Nationalisation update/review

The nationalisation of mines debate in South Africa is, as predicted, reaching new heights of sound and fury. Yesterday it appeared that Cosatu was officially supporting the Youth League call. This is a situation fraught with danger although I do not change my assessment that the ANC is unlikely to decide on mine nationalisation along anything like the lines proposed by its youth wing.

Summary bullets

  • Yesterday Cosatu economist Christopher Malikane argued that the ANC has accepted as fact that the mines would be nationalised and that it was only a question of “how” not “if”.
  • This does not imply significant new risk although the markets are likely to interpret it as such.
  • In reality Cosatu is significantly divided on the call and current shifts in Cosatu policy have more to do with (important) internal conflicts.
  • Cosatu does not have the final or even main say over ANC economic policy and its current flirtation with the Youth League is actually about frustration with not achieving its policy aims with the ANC.
  • The ANC and its left wing allies have been consistent and steadfast in their criticism of the call and I outline the history both of the Youth League call and of the critique of the call in this report.
  • The nationalisation call has consistently been deployed in political battles for power within the ANC and in government which both gives the call unrealistic political energy and makes the threat difficult to interpret or assess.
  • The ANC has set its Economic Transformation Committee the task of assessing the call and making proposals. I expect clarity to emerge in November this year but a final decision will only be made at the centenary national conference in December next year.
  • Cost, international agreement, the Bill of Rights and the constitution make it inconceivable that the ANC attempt to nationalise the mines.
  • However I think the party and government will use the threat as a stick to get a better deal out of the mining houses.
  • Between now and the final decision the “sound and fury” will keep the issue alive and the threat present.

Cosatu shifts towards the ANC Youth League

Yesterday  Congress of South African trade Unions economist Professor Christopher Malikane was reported to have said at a South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry forum that the group charged with discussing the nationalisation of mines in the ANC had moved beyond the issue of whether the mines should be nationalised and is now purely considering modalities to achieve this aim. “Investors are looking for certainty around the issue of nationalisation, well this is the certainty they need,” he said.

The ANC Youth League managed to place formally on the agenda of the ruling African National Congress (at the party’s National General Council in September 2010) the proposal that government consider nationalising a majority share of the mining industry – for report back and a decision at the party’s Mangaung elective centenary conference in December 2012.

The general noise gets louder

With the ANC and government leadership mired in controversy relating to poor service delivery, poor government performance and accusation of corruption – and the Zuma presidency as weak as it has ever been – the ANC Youth League and its supporters in government appear to have seized the initiative and are making all the running at a public level. Investors and other observers would be forgiven for thinking that the slogan “Economic Freedom in our lifetime!” and the calls to nationalise the mines, banks and the land (that last explicitly without compensation) were not government policy. I am of the view that owners of mining equity and other property in South Africa are starting to feel the heat.

My view

My view has been that the ANC is highly unlikely to decide to nationalise the mines – although uncertainty in this regard will persist right up until December 2012 (although some clarity is expected to emerge after the ANC committee examining this issue reports back some time in November this year).

I think that the party and government will attempt to use the populist surge to discipline the mining companies to fulfil their social and Black Economic Empowerment obligations under the Mining Charter (which arises out of the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act).

Additionally government and the party are likely to use the opportunity to change the tax and royalty regime to extract more revenue from the sector – particularly with the imposition of a tax on windfall profits.

Finally I think it likely that new obligations will be placed on the mining companies – especially with regard to some form of obligatory contribution to the building and maintenance of transport and power infrastructure near where the mining operations are located.

Brief History of the nationalisation call

The ANC Youth League on nationalisation of mines

Soon after the current leadership of the ANC came to power at the landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007 the ANC Youth League elected Julius Malema as its president (in April 2008).

By the end of that year Julius Malema and the Youth League began proposing that the mining industry be nationalised. This was the essential elements of that proposal:

* an immediate suspension of the issuing of mineral rights and permits;

* the establishment of a state owned mining company;

* the nationalisation – with or without compensation – of fifty percent of all mining operations;

* that licenses only be issued in future on the basis of a 60 percent equity stake being held by the state owned company.

The Youth League drew authority from the historic Freedom Charter document. The document, drawn up in a national consultative process led by the African National Congress in 1955 and adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown says of the economy:

“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.

Criticism from the Left of the ANC Youth League call

The major critique of the ANC Youth League call was formulated by Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (and major ANC intellectual and ideologue).

It is my guess that Jeremy Cronin was deployed by the incumbent leadership of the ANC in the belief that a criticism of the nationalisation call articulated by leading communists would defuse the Youth Leagues claim of militancy and radicalism – and I therefore cover these arguments in detail here.

Cronin argued that the Freedom Charter passage supports the idea that “the people” get the full benefit of the economic resources “not that there be a narrow bureaucratic take-over by the state apparatus and the ruling party’s deployees” (all Cronin quotes in italics in this section from SACP’s Umsebenzi Online Volume 8, No. 20, 18 November 2009).

The state owning important aspects of the economy says nothing, for Cronin, about whose interests are being served:

“Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s fascist Italy, and Verwoerd’s apartheid South Africa all had extensive state ownership of key sectors of the economy.”

So for Cronin the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act had already gone some way to fulfilling the Freedom Charter’s objectives by explicitly stating:

“… that South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources belong to the nation and that the State is the custodian thereof ….  In other words, it is the “nation” (with the state as custodian) and not the mining companies that have legal ownership of the mineral resources beneath our soil”.

Cronin argues that the Youth Leagues proposal of nationalising

“mining houses in the current global and national recession might have the unintended consequence of simply bailing out indebted private capital, especially BEE mining interests”.

And further that:

“Many of our gold mines in particular are increasingly depleted and unviable. Some reach costly depths of four kilometres below the surface. Recently the global gold price has bounced back, but it is telling that, unlike in the past, our gold output actually dropped by some 9% in the same period. Our gold mines are simply no longer able to respond dynamically to gold price rises.”

Cronin (while making it clear he thinks “the people owe the mining houses absolutely nothing”) points out that South Africa’s Bill of Rights sanctions expropriation but requires compensation at a price agreed by both parties or determined by the courts.

The bottom-line for Cronin is that nationalisation would do nothing to further the “national democratic struggle”. Rather it;

“would land the state with the burden of managing down many mining sectors in decline … burden the state with the responsibility for dealing with the massive (and historically ignored) cost of “externalities” – the grievous destruction that a century of robber-baron mining has inflicted on our environment. In the current conjuncture, nationalising the mining sector at this point would also probably unintentionally bail-out private capital, in a sector that is facing many challenges of sustainability. The problems of liquidity and indebtedness for BEE mining share-holders are particularly acute.”

Opposition to and support of Youth League call

President Jacob Zuma, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (who is also SACP Chairman), and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu have all explicitly rejected the ANC Youth League’s call – with Shabangu having famously said that the mines would only be nationalised “over my dead body”.

However despite this being the overwhelming position of the ANC and government, the Youth League scored a significant victory by having its proposal placed formally on the ANC’s policy agenda – achieved at the National General Council meeting in September last year.

At that conference Tokyo Sexwale (Mvelapanda Resources and Human Settlements minister) and Bridget Radebe (Mmakau Mining, wife of minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe and sister of Patrice Motsepe) both came out in support of the ANC Youth League’s call – giving some weight to the now widespread allegation that the Youth League is operating with a hidden and funded agenda to have failing Black Economic Empowerment deals bailed out by government.

Arguing against the call were leading ANC intellectuals Joel Netshitenzhe, Jeremy Cronin and Trevor Manuel. However the ANC incumbent leadership failed to block the Youth League proposal and it is now formal policy of the ANC to investigate the matter and report back for a decision to be made at the centenary National Conference of the ANC which will be held at Mangaung (Bloem) in December 2012.

The ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee

The committee tasked with formulating the ANC’s position on the nationalisation of mines is the Economic Transformation Committee – which has the general brief of investigating the role of the state in economic development and is the natural forum in the ANC to develop a position on nationalisation.

There is not much in the public domain about the proceedings of the committee, but it is my information that Gwede Mantashe is overseeing the work of the committee which is formally headed by Enoch Godongwana (deputy minister of Economic Development and ANC NEC member).

The contributors thus far include those from the ANC Youth League, Joel Netshitenzhe, MZ Ngungunyane, Cosatu, Floyd Shivambu, Paul Jordaan and the National Union of Mineworkers. The full text of the initial contributions can be found in the last five issues of ANC’s internal discussion publication “Umrabulo” (find those on the ANC website at http://www.anc.org.za/list.php?t=Umrabulo).

It is my understanding that those opposed to the nationalisation call – for the reasons that have already been summarised in this report – are attempting to craft a compromise that will allow everyone to save face while allowing government to wrestle a better deal out of the mining companies – as stated in the “My view” section at the start of this report.

It is my understanding that the committee will report back in November this year and I expect the markets to get an indication of how the debate will pan out then. However, it should be borne in mind that the formal conclusion of this debate will only be reached at Mangaung in December 2012 and the noise is likely to continue right up until the last minute.

Cosatu’s shifting sands

The major change of external inputs into my assessment has been a struggle within the Congress of South African Trade Unions that has resulted in a shift away from the federation’s original position which was closely aligned with the view of the SACP and the incumbent leadership of the ANC – as articulated by Jeremy Cronin above.

The last unambiguous statement from Cosatu on this general issue came in the form of a joint communiqué with the SACP on the 24th of June 2011- I quote it here in full:

“… periods of capitalist crisis are also typically characterized by various forms of right-wing demagogic populist mobilization acting on behalf of various capitalist strata in crisis, but often masked behind a pseudo-left rhetoric. We believe that the same phenomenon is apparent in SA, finding a potential mass base amongst tens of thousands of unemployed and alienated youth in particular. However, behind this populism are often well-resourced business-people and politicians seeking to plunder public resources. We resolved as the SACP and COSATU to close ranks and to expose the true agenda of these tendencies and their connections to corruption and predatory behaviour in the state.”

However, at the Cosatu National Executive Committee meeting a week later a split appeared in Cosatu that has impacted on this debate.

The conflict is complicated but in a nutshell, it is between a faction led by powerful Cosatu Secretary General Zwelenzima Vavi and Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) of South Africa and a faction headed by leaders grouped around the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) under Frans Baleni. Broadly the NUM/Baleni faction is supportive of the SACP and the Zuma leadership of the ANC while the Vavi/Jim/Numsa axis has become frustrated with broken promises (concerning both corruption and economic policy) of the Zuma/ANC leadership and would generally seek a more radical socialist or workerist political solution than is being offered by the ANC.

The Vavi/Jim/Numsa faction has over the last month begun courting the ANC Youth League, and attempting to harness the energy coming from this sector for its own ends. This is highly opportunistic as Vavi and Numsa have consistently characterized the Youth League leadership as “right-wing demagogic populist” and the League’s nationalisation call as fronting a corrupt BEE agenda looking to take a double bite out of resources available for transformation.

Rank opportunism or not, the crack in the Cosatu position is adding a new element to nationalisation debate. It is my understanding that the National Union of Mineworkers remains opposed to the ANC Youth League call, but the new element will undoubtedly add some confusion.

The point to remember about Cosatu – a point reiterated by the ANC and government leadership time and again – is that the federation represents a sectional interest. There are obvious reasons why some elements in Cosatu would want the mines nationalised – who wouldn’t want a guaranteed job for life as a Greek style (up until recently) government employee?

It is to NUM’s credit that its president Senzani Zokwana said in November last year that the Youth League was being reckless with the industry and that the League’s call was inspired by rich Black Economic Empowerment recipients looking to get failing deals bailed out by the state and Frans Baleni a month ago reiterated: “It is not only the private sector that has invested (in mines), but the workers with their pension and provident funds have also invested. We should have maturity and the debate should not have political undertones.”

It’s the law!

A key motivator of my view has been that South Africa is bound both formally and informally to agreements – including in the Constitution – that make it impossible to nationalise the mines without full compensation. Nationalising 50 percent of the mines would cost in the region of $130bn. There is no conceivable advantage – and an almost endless downside – for the government to nationalise the mines. Therefore it is not going to happen – although the end result might look like a compromise and might entail the establishment of a state owned mining company, although one with a much smaller asset base and agenda than conceived in the Youth League’s call.

Nothing material has changed that would allow me to change the view – although my confident smile has assumed a slightly brittle quality. Cosatu was never going to be the determining factor in this debate but the weakness of the ANC leadership – in particular the weakness of Jacob Zuma’s presidency – means that I am no longer certain that the centre of the Ruling Alliance can hold.

From the start the nationalisation of mines call has, in part, been a stalking horse for leadership challenges within the ANC and government. I have argued elsewhere that the call has been central to Tokyo Sexwale’s political ambitions and that he has covertly supported the Youth League in this regard for some time.

Now we have an element of Cosatu attempting to forge some form of alliance with the Youth League around the call clearly as part of a strategy to shift the leadership balance within the ANC.

The Youth League itself is using the call for its popular mobilization potential to help push its own candidates (particularly Fikile Mbalula – currently minister of sport) for higher office.

In this environment it would be foolhardy to be overconfident about the call. However it is my opinion that predicting the success of the Youth League call would be the same as predicting the imminent failure of the South African democratic project and state – a view I believe is too extreme and alarmist.

In many ways what is happening now is very much as predicted: the situation will be full of sound and fury right up until a decision is made at the end of 2012.

I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.

In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.

I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.

Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.

(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at nic.borain@gmail.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)

Julius Malema

If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy –  fill your boots! ”

He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.

I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.

He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.

This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.

He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.

Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was  looking scary.

And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.

I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.

I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.

I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.

President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.

Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.

The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism

I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the  ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.

For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.

At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.

The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of  a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.

It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.

This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.

Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.

Helen Zille also rises

My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language,  is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.

Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.

Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes

I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.

There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.

The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the  Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.

Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?

I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.

The cacophony – let it stop!!

It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.

I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’  or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.

It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.

I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.

From one of my favourite books of all time: Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.

The first few are new here, but I then attend append – not sure what I was thinking – to the end of the post “Some light weekend contempt” (August 21 2009) and “Some (more) light weekend contempt” (October 25 2009) – because those quotes are mostly excellent, funny and timeless and I have good reason to believe you haven’t seen them before and I hope they delight you as much as they do me.

On the lead-up to May 18

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.

Otto von Bismarck

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.

George Jean Nathan


In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.

Terry M. Townshend, speech 1940


Whatever politicians, activists and manipulators propose, it is the phlegmatic, indifferent, ingrained electorate which disposes.

Don Aitkin, quoted, 1969

On why I don’t trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability and recall

What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.

Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665


There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694


The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see of his behind.

General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell

On democracy’s ability to hide underlying power dynamics – and how it is invariably abused by the powerful

A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.

V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917


Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.

Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912


Parliaments are the great lie of our times.

Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896

(Hmm, this reminds of something):

That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.

Woodrow Wilson, 1917

On whose fault it is, anyway

Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

George Bernard Shaw


Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916

On the (slightly fascist) idea that in as far as democracy allows the views of ‘the average man and women’ to be the dominant view, it is an awful system of government

Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.

P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991


Democracy: a festival of mediocrity.

E. M. Cioran

The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.

Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941


A man may have strong humanitarian and democratic principles, but if he happens to have been brought up as a bath-taking, shirt-changing lover of fresh air, he will have to overcome certain physical repugnances before he can bring himself to put these principles into practice.

Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate, 1926


An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.

Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923

Some light weekend contempt

Our Democracy?

 Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.

James Russel Lowell

 

Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14

 

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

H.L. Mencken, 1916

Jacob Zuma?

An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.

Simon Cameron, 1860

 

Cosatu?

It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

Edmund Burke – 1769

Hlope?

A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.

Anonymous

Steve Tswete?

A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.

Aristophanes

Obama?

Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.

David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973

Polokwane?

Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

The SACP?

Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955

The DA?

What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.

Stokeley Carmichael

Some (more) light weekend contempt

On the drift to the left in South African policy making:

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.

– P. J. O’Rourke

On certain young leaders in South African politics:

Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.

– Thomas Fuller 1732

On the much revered family of North American mythology – and a metaphor for the Ruling Alliance:

Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.

– August Strindberg 1886

On love – and the current state of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance:

The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.

– Henry Haskins 1940

On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?

What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?

– Bertolt Brecht 1928

or:

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

– Robert Frost

Hellen Zille?:

A woman can look both moral and exciting – if she looks as if it were quite a struggle.

– Edna Ferber 1954

Blade Nzimande:

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.

– H.L. Mencken 1956

This way:

  • The business of government becomes the business of enriching the governors … rather than the business of governing and thereby serving the electorate’s overarching interests?
  • The extremely rich rewards to be gained from holding political office cause the party list process – especially in the ANC – to become one of mayhem and murder, endlessly chaotic and contested?
  • All classes of South Africans whose interests are inimical to the looting of the state, political patronage, ransacking the parastatals, incompetent government and tenderpreneurial activity of all kinds (the black and white middle classes, the industrial working class and the urban poor who are dependent on service delivery as well as big and small business, which both need a functional state, stable rules and the rule of law)  begin to shift their support to opposition parties, social movements and trade unions?
  • In turn this puts pressure on the Ruling Alliance as Cosatu and ANC democrats start pushing against the tide.
  • The ANC withdraws into governing through systems of patronage and razzmatazz populism as its class base shifts to the rural poor, unemployed urban youth, the state sector and the political/economic  elite and fast-and- loose forms of international capital and organised criminals (the last two categories are experts in dealing with this kind of politics)?

I think this is the way the cookie crumbles. With the proviso that no-one knows the future – and it is always more unexpected than not –  and I think the cookie crumbling in the way that I have described means:

  • The Democratic Alliance continues to transform its racial profile (in electoral support as well as leadership) and strengthens its support in urban constituencies throughout the country in the May18 national municipal election.
  • There is a significant showing in that election by other opposition parties and independents.
  • Cosatu begins to plan for the inevitability of either ‘a coup’ within the ANC or a withdrawal from the Ruling Alliance and the establishment of a viable alternative political home.
  • The backlash within the ANC after the election will be severe leading to very high levels of contestation before and during the 2012 elective centenary conference.

That’s the way I see it, although I might be wrong.

If I am right, the next few months is the last chance for the ANC to be saved from the future its current leaders are securing for it.

A rescue job will have to reject the Nkandla style patronage networks as well as the ANC YL style technocratic tenderpreneurialism and those who back it. That doesn’t leave much political room for a challenge or much of an internal constituency in which to nestle it – other than on the left.

Just thought I would mention that in passing … I am now so busy with paid work (hurrah!) that “in passing” is the only time I will have for a while.

Black Swans are loose upon the world:

The 2008 global debt crisis, Eyjafjallajökull (pronunciation fun here), Haiti and New Zealand Earthquake, China drought, Queensland floods the political crises in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disasters seem to prove that it is not the mundane everyday that shapes the world but rather high impact and extremely rare events.

The moment has rather given credence to Nicholas Taleb’s assertion in his book  The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable that outlier probabilities are what shape our world and not the day-to-day numbers.

The point about black swan events is that they are highly unpredictable. Sitting there in January we did have a sense that we were in the midst of shocks and the consequences of shocks: we were finally recovering from the mortgage linked debt crises and appeared be entering a new and threatening terrain associated with sovereign debt worries in Europe – and beyond.

That wasn’t all good, but it was part of the “known known” and we had a general sense of where to look for the things we didn’t know (the known unknowns – for a useful breakdown of Donald Rumsfeld’s discussion about certainty and unpredictability and Slavoj Žižek’s caustic reply see here.)

Two months later the world is a markedly different place and I have found it useful to use the Japanese earthquake and linked disasters as well as the political instability in MENA (Middle East North Africa) to ask the big and scary questions about South Africa.

Usefully, Moeletsi Mbeki has written an article predicting South Africa’s Tunisia Day for some time in about 2020.

Catch the Business Day article here and see my review of his book Architects of Poverty on which that Business Day article is extensively based here. (Afterthought note: the Business Day article is “extensively based” on Architects of Poverty not on my review.)

The long and the short of Mbeki’s argument is that the primary resource intensive phase of Chinese growth will be concluded by 2020 (and therefore the commodity supercycle will come to an end) and the ANC government will run out of money to keep paying the social grants bribe to the poorest South Africans – which in turn will lead to revolt and rebellion.

He takes it a lot further – instead of growing our competitive advantage while the commodity bonanza is with us, the ANC has instituted another system of bribes to its own leaders and supporters (Black Economic Empowerment) which consists of getting wodges of the non-essential parts of existing business and turning those into consumption fuel. Thus fat cat politicians and their families act as representatives of the cheap-labour and primary-resource-addicted conglomerates in exchange for the mess of pottage and extreme ostentatious consumption.

And waiting in their future, according to Mbeki’s argument, is a Tunisia style revolt.

So that’s the layout of the argument.

I think it is timely and provocative and interesting, but I do not think it is meant – or should be taken seriously  – as a real prediction. It is polemic that warns about the excesses the new elite is indulging in.

I am in the middle of a road show where I ask the big questions about South Africa’s future stability.

I finish this evening and will then be in a position to summarise my own view; looking at the factors that lead towards instability and revolt and the factors that act to keep them at bay, asking how these balance in South Africa today.

The one thing the last few weeks have taught us is that the world is complex and interlinked in ways that make it extremely difficult to predict outcomes. With this proviso, I do not think we realistically can suggest that there are processes operative in our society that lead, in a linear fashion, to a Tunisia Day in the next ten years of our history … but it is a close call and I will examine some of that tonight and tomorrow morning.

A guest post from my friend and colleague Sandra Gordon. Sandra is a respected financial market economist and we increasingly present work as a team in what is often called “a dog and pony show” … although in our case there is some disagreement over who will be the dog and who will be the pony. Sandra is an excellent market commentator and I have known and respected her views since she was my client on the “buy side” at Nedcor Investment Bank Asset Management (Nibam) in the mid-90s.

My friend, colleague and author of this post on the National Budget, Sandra Gordon

Over to Sandra:

If there was one message from this year’s budget it is that, despite all the hype that economic transformation has finally arrived (the dreaded “shift to the left” which tends to give the financial market types sleepless nights), it’s actually probably more of a case of business as usual.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, there was serious debate worldwide about the merits of various economic growth models. In the 2010/11 Budget, Minister Gordhan noted: “The recent crisis and its aftermath have led to a serious introspection and rethinking of what were thought to be robust and superior economic models.” With the Washington Consensus in disgrace, South Africa was able to signal its intention of shifting towards a “developmental state” (essentially a more active role for government in the economy).

So it seemed South Africa was headed for a developmental state and real economic transformation. The new model was finally outlined by the New Growth Path (NGP), which was released by Minister Patel late last year. The primary aim of the NGP was the creation of five million new jobs by 2020.

This theme was echoed in the recent State of the Nation address, in which President Zuma announced a range of measures to encourage job creation.

Yet, despite all the talk of economic transformation – and the ongoing tsunami of change in the global environment – this year’s budget is essentially unchanged from the previous. The critical issues facing our economy were again identified as the twin evils of unemployment and poverty, while the best way to address them is to focus on job creation and encouraging growth in those sectors most likely to generate employment.

Admittedly this year’s budget had a greater focus on jobs than last year – with a grocery list of programmes and measures totalling R150 billion over the next three years. A key difference was also the absence of any mention of the “developmental state” – with government’s role limited to the provision of incentives and the creation of an environment conducive to growth – such as the easing of transport and logistic bottlenecks etc. Other than that, the key measures were familiar – more social spending to support the poor, huge sums for investment in infrastructure and a focus on skills development and training.

Essentially the budget delivered on the priorities laid out by the NGP – with one glaring exception: demands for a weaker rand. Minister Gordhan neatly sidestepped this particularly contentious issue by noting that government had already responded to excessive rand strength by easing exchange controls and accelerating the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves in October last year. Beyond those measures, Treasury will be “monitoring” the measures adopted by other countries – including Brazil and Thailand – which have had similar struggles with massive capital inflows and excessive currency strength. So effectively, “we’re looking into it.”

The other political hot potato that was neatly avoided in the budget was the issue of the National Health Insurance. This year’s budget included measures which “lay the foundations” for NHI. The implementation progress is going to take time – but things are undoubtedly going to get more interesting when the debate shifts to how the NHI is to be funded. Gordhan listed a range of possible funding sources including a VAT hike, a surcharge on personal income or a payroll tax. None of those options are likely to be particularly well received.

Essentially then, Gordhan was able to address all the priorities outlined in the NGP (barring rand weakness), while maintaining an element of fiscal discipline. With the deficit remaining at 5.3% of GDP in the new fiscal year – in line with the previous fiscal year but above expectations – debt servicing is now the fastest growing spending category.

While we are in a far better position than countries like America, the UK and various European economies which are slashing government spending and raising taxes, it could well be that this is our last chance to really get the economy moving. If the measures in this year’s budget deliver growth, tax revenues will ultimately rise and fiscal discipline will be maintained.

If, however, growth stagnates – perhaps due to a deterioration in the external environment – the state may find its finances stressed, providing less scope for social spending and job creation initiatives. As one analyst put it in the press this morning, this could be “the last throw of the dice”.

And it is on this front that the news is a little less reassuring.

It is positive that – amidst the global turmoil – the centre is holding and our basic economic policies remain on course. But our key weakness has always been not our policies but our inability to implement those measures. So for all the good news in this year’s budget regarding measures to encourage job creation and infrastructure investment, there have been no developments which would lead one to think that there is going to be any significant improvement in implementation and delivery.

In an increasingly unstable global environment, it is becoming ever more important that we finally start making significant progress on reducing our unemployment rate and pervasive poverty. We have the money, for now, but the ability to implement and deliver is becoming ever more critical.

With so much at stake, it looks set to be another interesting year.

The budget is the spending, taxation and borrowing plans of government.

Don’t just think of it as a series of  hefty documents (the national budget review, the estimate of national expenditure, the appropriations bill and the division of revenue bill) – hundreds of pages and millions of calculations, graphs and tables.

It is more than just the grand plan to tax and borrow and divide the money between central , provincial government and municipal governments as well as between a thousand different priorities.

It is, in theory and in a functioning democracy at any rate, how the will of the people is exercised in the world; the full process of planning and execution by the elected government.

Obviously elected governments are not always perfect translations of “the popular will”, and “the popular will” itself is not always something more noble than a self serving and ugly little collection of prejudices, fear and greed.

But anyway, the questions I was asking of the budget were:

  • Is the Treasury still the guiding hand in macro-economic policy – in the sense that it remains able to force prudence and fiscal rectitude on the rest of government?
  • The New Growth Path calls for measures to make the currency more competitive: more restrained fiscal stance combined with more active monetary policy, accumulation of reserves, a sovereign wealth fund and possible controls on short term capital inflows. Does the Budget 2011 confirm these commitments?
  • How much money will be allocated to removing infrastructural, skills and administrative bottlenecks in the economy? Is there the promised Marshall Plan type urgency to increase the economy’s capacity for growth?
  • Are there measures to encourage domestic savings: compulsory retirement savings, discouraging high debt levels, increasing corporate savings by discouraging dividend payments and development bonds … and horror of horrors the return of a strong version of ‘directed investments’? Depending on how this is phrased it could spook investors and generally indicate hostility to open markets.
  • Were the supportive measures in the State of the Nation address (in particular the R20bn to manufacturing subsides) something new or actually measures that had been announced before?
  • Did the mention of a 9 billion rand jobs fund in the State of the National address refer to the long missing subsidy for first time youth workers? This is significant because it will show government preparedness to take on Cosatu over the labour market.
  • Shifts in the over-all allocation of state money between priority areas as different as policing, housing, water and sewerage can indicate changing strategies as well as changing prioritisation.  But in general we will be looking for the meat on the bones of the statement that government wishes to be a “developmental” not a “welfare” state.
  • How close are we to a National Health Insurance scheme and how aggressive will that scheme be to the private sector?
  • Is the allocation for the civil servants wage bill set to endlessly increase or does it look like government might, at some stage, dig in its heals and face down the public sector unions.
  • What measure are in place or likely to be put in place to control corruption and cronyism within government departments and in the allocation of state contracts?

If that was where I was looking for the signs of where we are going, my next post will look at what the budget revealed with regard to these questions.

‘Not as bad as I feared; perhaps even better than I hoped’ – is my reply to the question implicit in the title.

I have been flat-out covering the event for paying clients and I was at parliament in the gracious hands of the lovely people from Radio 2000 – where I commented for about an hour. Hence me only scribbling these short notes at this late stage in proceedings.

View from before

This is what I had to say before the event:

It is a ceremonial occasion; Jacob Zuma is there in his capacity as Head of State (not only head of government); it’s a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces; the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is in formal attendance; there’s a red carpet, a twenty-one gun salute and a public gallery packed with ordinary people, senior representatives of the governing alliance and foreign and local dignitaries … this is just not a place where policy decisions, especially the various nettles Jacob Zuma will be required to grasp, could be spoken of in the clear and forthright terms that will, ultimately, be required.

View from the moment

I was initially very positive.

After a ten minute glance at the document I said to Reuters:

With surprising fluency Jacob Zuma managed to sound like a head of state dealing with an emergency – the crisis of unemployment.  He didn’t  grasp the nettle of the regulations that are strangling the labour market, but he placed more emphasis than expected on the private sector – especially manufacturing. There was also more detail than expected – and a confirmation that the interventionist aspects of the NGP will be issues to be dealt with this year.

I was impressed by the details namely:

  • The nugget at the core of the speech: the proposed R20 billion in tax breaks for manufacturing investments above R200 million for new projects and R30 million for expansions and upgrades – I do not expect the ANC’s trade union allies to be charmed by this idea (money in the hands of the bosses!) even if they will be amongst the ultimate beneficiaries.
  • Significant (and part of the New Growth Path’s underlying strategy of fiscal constraint and monetary easing) he foregrounded the statement that: “The Budget deficit is set to decline from the current 6.7% to between 3 and 4% by 2013. Concerns about the exchange rate have been taken to heart”.
  • The R9 billion by 2013 “jobs fund” – what is interesting about this is apparently Helen Zille interpreted this on an SAFM interview as the long-lost subsidy for first time youth workers … Cosatu is also going to hate that implicit segmentation of the labour market. ’

View from today?

I’m still positive. There was lots of ra! ra! in there, but that is to be expected in an election year and, quite frankly, every victory he claimed he said how far we still have to go.

He also spoke surprisingly like a statesman and he made the drive for jobs sound like a clarion call to mobilise the nation for war … which this campaign is or should be.

Finally, he mentioned that the Municipal elections will take place before the end of May. That will be enough grist for me mill … heady times to be a political analyst in this country.

The Activist Developmental State is an idea I feel deeply ambivalent about.

The picture below of Shanghai in the 1990s and then again last year is from a blog by Roger Pielke, Jr, professor of environment studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado. (Thanks to Anthony for the link and please click on the pic to go to Pielke’s website.)

This stark, and wonderful, portrayal of astonishingly rapid social, environmental and economic change rather raises the question of how it was achieved.

And, more importantly for our provincial purposes here: can we do something similar?

The New Growth Path is a plan to achieve job rich, environmentally friendly,  economic growth while narrowing the Apartheid wage gap.

Saying it is a plan with those intentions says nothing about whether it has any realistic potential of achieving any of its objectives – or of perhaps leading to some unforeseen outcome.

So what did Chinese politicians actually do to “cause” these changes to happen?

Wikepedia says rapid growth came about as a result of the economic reform programme (I have left Wikepedia’s links and notes in there):

Economic reforms began in 1978 and occurred in two stages. The first stage, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, involved the decollectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurs to start up businesses. However, most industry remained state-owned, inefficient and acted as a drag on economic growth. The second stage of reform, in the late 1980s and 1990s, involved the privatization and contracting out of much state-owned industry and the lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations, although state monopolies in sectors such as banking and petroleum remained. The private sector grew remarkably, accounting for as much as 70 percent of China’s GDP by 2005,[4] a figure larger in comparison to many Western nations. From 1978 to 2010, unprecedented growth occurred, with the economy increasing by 9.5% a year. China’s economy became the second largest after the United States.

Leaving aside the obviously important question of whether these changes have led to greater human good, the New Growth Path very clearly and explicitly is going in the opposite direction on some of these issues (privatisation, contracting out, shrinking public sector) but flirts with weakening the rand to stimulate manufacturing and the traded goods sector (a central plank of Chinese growth).

Now I have no idea whether the New Growth Path will cause anything to change.

But my instinct says that the most important thing the state can do is step out of the way and allow damned dammed (damn! – ed) up human potential to find its way to the sea – like is revealed in the pictures of this great city at the mouth of the Yangtze river.

I definitely don’t hold some extreme libertarian view that wants to shrink the state to nothing and leave everything to the magical markets. “The State” is the mechanism by which we achieve all the myriad things we would not be able to achieve individually.

But there is a fundamental choice in approach to the state’s role. Should the state do “the thing” we require to be done or should the state regulate how “the thing” is done by the markets? Many “things” are not immediately profitably so enterprising private individuals do not do them. These things must obviously be done by the state if our democratic processes determine that they are desirable or necessary things do be done. And certain undertakings are too big and complex for one private enterprise. Those things are best done by the state or forms of state that arise through international co-operations.

The New Growth Path, it seems to me, bends the stick the way of the state being required to do more as well as more  regulation of the enterprise of private individuals.

I strongly suspect that this is a step in the wrong directions but I am uncertain enough to be open to persuasion.

Busy, busy … and everything is slower; the brain and hands struggle with what they did with alacrity before the December holiday.

Anyway …

It is becoming clear that South African Investment Risk is going to be all about the New Growth Path (NGP) this year. So picking up from where I left off from the two pieces I wrote last year about the NGP, here and here – I did promise a third and, I suppose, this is it.

Zuma’s 2010

I get irritated by those those interminable news features reviewing or predicting the calender year as if it was a natural unit of history into which discreet trends neatly fit themselves and await their unpacking by news organisations short of December and January copy.

But then that means I failed to point out one of the most interesting features of 2010, namely the peculiar arc described by Jacob Zuma’s fortunes over the course of last year.

Remember how badly the year started for him?

He stumbled from crisis to crisis and the consequences of his sexual behaviour (consequences we are going to feel again this year) began to make even his most fervent backers nervous.

The second phase was the World Cup and the apparent surrendering of his position to Blatter and his merry band of soccer thieves. That phase ended with the gathering woes of the public sector strike and a serious challenge from “the right” at the NGC.

That is the moment he turned it all around, to everyone’s surprise – mine included.

His administration managed to negotiate an end to the public sector strike and secure Cosatu’s aid to stop the political challenge from the right (fronted by Julius Malema, but emanating from higher up the ANC/New Elite food chain – I cover that – exhaustingly if not exhaustively –  here.)

As I discuss in the previous link, it is my contention that he secured the victory by making policy concessions to the left and Cosatu (which are essentially contained within the NGP document – clearly not acceding to the left’s full agenda but going some of the way) and this sets much of the tone for a discussion about political risk in 2011.

The New Growth Path (NGP)

The New Growth Path (NGP) document was produced by the Department of Economic Development (23/11/2010), an institution that came into being as a direct reward to Cosatu for having backed Jacob Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane and which is headed by a minister who hails from the heart of Cosatu’s leadership.

The origins of the NGP might be closely linked to Cosatu, but the fact that it is a real attempt to address unemployment that has been formulated in government (i.e. outside of the priority Cosatu objective of protecting the interests of the already employed) means it is full of suggestions that Cosatu has found itself unable to support.

But Cosatu’s doctrinaire and sectarian self-interest based criticism aside (see those here), this proposal is far closer to the policies of Cosatu than any macro and micro economic framework that has emanated from the ANC and government since 1996 – and this is because the document forms part of the payback to the trade union movement and herein is contained some of the risks associated with the policy.

The Activist Developmental State

The NGP is more than just a statement committing government to various broad economic interventions designed to achieve job rich economic growth. It calls for a fundamentally new approach to the administration of all aspects the economy and is highly interventionist and proposes that the the Department of Economic Development plays the lead role.

One of the most interesting critiques of the policy comes from the Chief Economist of the Sanlam group

It wants to regulate wages and salaries in the labour market, prices in the goods market, the rate of exchange in the currency market, interest rates in the money and capital markets, and dividend policies and therefore by extension equity prices. It even hints at rent control in its desire to reduce rentals for small businesses in shopping centres. (The New Growth Path – Does it really take us forward? – Jac Laubscher, Sanlam Group Economist – 01/12/2010 catch the full text of that interesting critique here).

The premise is that markets left to their own devises will not solve the problems, particularly of unemployment. Unemployment (as well as the full range of social ills in South Africa), in this paradigm (the paradigm of the NGP, not the paradigm of Sanlam or Jac Laubscher!), can only be addressed by vigorous state intervention.

The conventional or orthodox view in economics tends, in principle, to be wary of over regulation of the economy and markets by even the most efficient, vigorous and rigorous state or government agency. The potential for misallocation of resources, bureaucratic drag, distortions and inefficiencies (and therefore reduced growth) must be significantly increased when a new, untested and under-resourced agency nested in a national administration known for high levels of dysfunction is charged with leading interventions at every level into the economy.

Looser monetary, tighter fiscal policy

The stability and predictability of macro-economic policy has been one the great successes of post-1994 policy making in South Africa.

The NGP makes constant reference to achieving a “more competitive” currency – through the mechanism of “a looser monetary policy and a more restrictive fiscal policy backed by microeconomic measures to contain inflationary pressures and enhance competitiveness” (page 16 , The New Growth path – The framework – 23/11/2010).

Thus this policy holds out the hope/promise of stimulating the manufacturing sector (by making exports more competitive) but proposes to help control the danger of inflation inherent in this strategy by reducing state expenditure.

I do not expect government to either change the inflation target for the SARB or its general mandate “to protect the value of the currency in the interest of balanced and sustainable economic growth” (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996/1996/2009-04-17/Chapter 13 – Finance), but the assumption must be – at least – that there will be downward pressure on the currency.

Labour markets and wages – the source of the conflict with Cosatu

What is fascinating about the NGP is that it calls for wage restraint and is, inevitably, starting a serious discussion in government and the ANC about the conflict between “quality jobs” and any jobs at all. Charged with creating employment, the NGP is inevitably going to come into conflict with the labour regime established after 1995 that so profoundly strengthened the interest of workers inside the system against the interests of the unemployed outside the system.

Conclusion

2011 is going to be the year that government finally shifts beyond the set of macro-economic policies enshrined in the Growth, Employment and Redistribution document that defined the Mbeki leadership – and so angered Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC’s own left wing.

Political analysis for this year is going to have a strong economic focus. We will have the national local government elections (the rumour I hear is May 18) and the never ending cycle of tenderpreneurial abuse by party and government figures.

All of that will continue to provide grist to our mill, but the big story for this year is all about government economic policy. Will they go too far for the financial markets and other investors? Can a government, any government, do anything to fundamentally alter the content and direction of economic growth? Can the Ruling Alliance hold itself together if the ANC grasps the nettle of the labour market? These are the big questions for the year.

Has anything changed?

The guy in the middle is the ANC and his lying entreaties are addressed to Cosatu and the SACP while his real passion – and the furtive fumbling in the dark – are with business, global and domestic.

I commissioned that cartoon in 1999 and Cathy Quickfall did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.

In the intervening 11 years I have used this same cartoon on several occasions (here’s one) to ask whether the game has changed.

I believe this is still the game: the ANC’s vacillation between a “left” agenda (consisting of a combination of growing state welfare, increasing effective taxation on the wealthy and expanded intervention into shaping the economy’s trajectory) versus the promise (made more strongly in private) to global and local capital that it’s rights to property and the retention of the large share of profits are inviolate.

All governments are faced with a similar dilemma, but it is a peculiarly South African phenomenon that the “left” agenda is married to the ruling party through the formal institution of the Ruling Alliance and that the political choices have, for clear historical and structural reasons, been cast in ‘racial’ as opposed to ‘class’ terms.

The cartoon as constructed worked perfectly well for the end of the Mandela era as well as the whole of the Mbeki era – even if, in typical soap opera fashion, the relationships became so complicated and entagled that the essential nature of the clandestine affair became difficult to percieve.

The analytical challenge  for myself for 2011 will be to establish whether it holds true today.

There are indicators, including vaguely in the January the 8th statement and government murmurings about the New Growth Path, that hint that the grand French style affair might be coming to an end.

The rise of Jacob Zuma was, in part, the result of a tactical manoeuvre by Cosatu and the SACP to stop the deepening and elaboration of the affair between the ANC and some of the uglier strands of global capitalism.

The strategy seemed to fail when the Zuma administration appeared initially to be all about continuity of Mbeki’s economic policies combined with replacing his BEE beneficiaries with the Nkandla Crew – the worst of both worlds.

I am starting to suspect that a combination of the strategic choices that have been forced on Zuma (by manoeuvrings to his right) and the absolute imperative that the ANC increase delivery to the poorest South Africans (who are the majority of voters) bring us closer to the breaking of the triangle that the cartoon represents than we have been since 1994.

I will continue to gnaw at the bones of this question in this blog and I welcome any contribution you might make to this or any other discussion that takes place here.

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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